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He prayeth best, who loveth best, all things both great and small. For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all…. Excerpt from, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
His mind hovered on the threshold of awareness; still swathed in those first blissful moments after the return to consciousness, but before full wakefulness. There was no memory of the previous days’ events, and the current one was, as of yet, without worry or cognizant thought of what had to be accomplished. Gradually, the gauzy veil of sleep receded, and John Gage slowly opened his eyes.
A glance out his bedroom window revealed what his senses already knew… it was still early. The first blush of day had not yet pushed over the eastern horizon; the sky just beginning to pale as the night shadows began to fade and slowly evaporate. He yawned drowsily and glanced at the clock beside his bed. The numbers shone out in the dim half-light of day … 5:02 a.m. It was an hour earlier than he usually woke up.
By habit, Johnny usually arose at six each morning, unless he had been out late the night before, or was sick. And although he had been out on a date the evening before, it had not gone well, so he had come home early, because his girlfriend of three weeks, Ramona had ended their relationship. He gave an internal sigh … dumped again.
Not that it had been completely unexpected. In the three weeks they had been dating, Johnny had had to cancel dates with her on two separate occasions. The first time occurred on their second date, a planned afternoon picnic at the beach. He had been called in to cover the rest of Oliver Bain’s shift over at Station 12.
Oliver had had his bell rung at a fire and was being kept for observation at Rampart, so Johnny had been asked to come in at noon and finish the downed medic’s shift. That had been cancelation number one. Number two had occurred during the second week on what was supposed to be their fourth date … Ramona’s birthday. Johnny had been called in to work on the engine over at Station 45 when Henderson had gone home sick with a stomach bug. So it was no surprise that by their fifth date, last night, the lovely Ramona had decided dating a fireman was not for her.
At least she had the good graces to end it with Johnny before they had arrived at the restaurant, thus saving him the price of a meal; it had also meant he was home by seven thirty the evening before. The early end to the evening had resulted in his being in bed by ten, and asleep by quarter after; which was why he was wide awake at five in the morning.
Glancing at the clock with a frown, he decided there was little point in going back to sleep when he had to get up for work in less than an hour anyway.
The sleepy medic pushed himself upright in the bed, extending his arms straight out in front of his body, stretching muscles that had gone unused for the past eight hours; looking for all the world like a large, sleek cat that had just awoken from its lazy siesta in the afternoon sun. He reached over to his clock and switched the alarm to the, off position … no need for the alarm now.
His gaze drifted from the clock on the nightstand, to the silver picture frame sitting next to it. It was one of his most prized possessions. Johnny stared at the image of himself as a child, standing proudly beside his parents. The photo had been snapped during the Labour Day weekend, just after his tenth birthday. It was the last picture they’d had taken together as a family; which was why that particular photo stayed at his bedside.
The moment had been captured by Old Bill, one of the hands on the ranch where his father worked. Johnny smiled wistfully as he gazed upon his mother’s face. Her hair hung poker straight and loose, stopping just below her waist; her dark soulful eyes were full of adoration as she stood with one arm wrapped around her young son’s shoulders; her other resting affectionately around her husbands’ hip.
Standing on Johnny’s left in the picture; his father stood smiling down proudly at his son. It was a smile so much like his own, that except for the colour of the hair and eyes, it was like looking at his own reflection in the mirror. His dad’s right hand rested on his son’s other shoulder, as his ten year old self held up the belt buckle he had just won for taking first place in his age group at his very first rodeo.
It had been a triumph made more incredible, because Johnny had been the youngest contestant there that day, having just turned ten the previous week. In the photo, his father’s left hand held tightly to the reins of Ajax, his favourite horse. All these years later, Johnny couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the horse. He had been riding Ajax when he had won the rodeo that day so long ago. He remembered how insistent he had been that the animal be included in the picture.
Johnny reached over and snatched up the picture, his gaze lingering on the image of his family for several long moments, lost in the memories of that day. Looking at it always made him simultaneously, both happy and sad. That day had been one of the happiest of his life… and yet it was bittersweet in that just three short weeks later, his parents were dead.
With the picture still clutched in his hand, Johnny kicked his lower body free from the covers, and swung his legs over the side of the bed, until his feet hit the cool hardwood floor. He hoisted his body off the side of the bed and shuffled out of the room, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn as he headed in the general direction of his kitchen. He was still shaking off the lethargy of just having awoken, as he made his way to the breakfast bar that separated his kitchen from the living area. He gave the photo one final glance before setting it on the formica surface of the island, and made a beeline for the coffee maker.
~ ~ ~
Ten minutes later saw Johnny leaning against the railing as he stood on his balcony, draining the final drops of coffee from his mug. There’s nothing like that first cup of coffee in the morning, he mused; especially when you got to enjoy it as you watched the sunrise. Standing on the balcony, was his favourite place to greet the day.
His first cup of liquid gold fully consumed, Johnny stepped back through the french doors and into his living room, pausing to glance around at the pleasant interior with a smile. After refilling his mug, he returned to his former place along the balcony railing with a contented sigh. Finding this place had been a real Godsend, he reflected.
His new apartment consisted of the entire second floor of a spacious Georgian style home, whose back yard happened to meet up with a large green space. It was a picturesque parkette full of benches and sprawling shade trees. It was a popular spot for picnickers, dog walkers, and bicycle riders who made use of the walking path that wound its way around a large man made pond.
The balcony in his apartment faced the east, and over looked the park. At this time of day on a Sunday morning, there was usually no one around except the birds and some of the smaller members of the local wildlife, such as squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and on occasion, a stray coyote.
He had only moved into this place six months ago, and even though it was an extra twenty minute drive into work, the trade-off had been worth it. It had fallen into his lap through a series of providential circumstances… serendipitous, was the word Roy had used.His old apartment building in Carson had been sold and was under new management. Within the first month, the new owner had informed all of his tenants that the rent would be going up by thirty dollars a month when their lease was up for renewal, which in Johnny’s case was two months away. The landlord had explained, it was to help pay for the new pool he planned to have put in. And although Johnny wouldn’t have minded the use of a pool…and the inevitable views of bikini clad girls that would follow; it would really put a crimp in his wallet.
For the past two years, the young paramedic had been scrimping and saving so he could put aside a little money at the end of each month. Over that time, he had managed to amass a nice little nest egg for his future. Johnny’s long term goal was to buy a small house with a parcel of land for himself…maybe twenty or thirty acres. Just enough room so he could have a couple of horses, a small garden… and a dog. He really missed having a dog. He had hoped to have enough saved up for a decent down payment by the time he was thirty. So when the rise in rent had been announced, Johnny made the decision not to renew his lease, and look for someplace cheaper instead.
The serendipitous aspect of getting his place had happened when he had been working an overtime shift for Hal Cooper over at Station 9. They had been called out to a serious MVA, where the driver of a car was trapped underneath the bed of a pickup truck he had rear-ended. The pickup was on fire and it was not looking good for the pinned driver of the car. But Johnny had refused to give in, and in a feat that surprised even him, he managed to pull the man free just mere seconds before the car became engulfed in flames. It had all been captured by a local news station, and had been broadcast on the six o’clock news that evening.
Johnny’s incredible rescue was talked about for a couple of shifts, and the young medic had made a point of stopping in to check on the young man at the hospital over the next couple of days. But like all rescues, it faded into history in a day or so and became replaced by other daring rescues made by other men from other stations.
The entire incident had completely slipped his mind, until six weeks later when the father of the man he had saved, had stopped by the station with his now healed son to give his thanks to the fireman who had saved his boy’s life. The older gentleman explained that he had wanted to get in contact with Johnny sooner, but his worry over his son, and the subsequent help his only child had needed those first few weeks after his release from Rampart had side tracked him…not to mention that Johnny was only filling in over at 9’s the day of the accident, so it had taken the father a few days to track down the station Johnny normally worked out of.
As fate would have it, the father and son had entered the kitchen at Station 51, at the precise moment Johnny and Roy were discussing the fact that Johnny still hadn’t found an apartment he was happy with. It was a statement that had not been lost on the grateful father.
It turned out the man and his wife had just converted the second floor of their home into an income property. Now that his son had left home, they planned on using the income suite as a way to supplement their pensions.
The home was located further away from the station than Johnny had been looking for, but it was a two bedroom apartment for the same rent he had been paying before his current apartment building had been sold.
The, pièce de résistance was the fact that since it was an income suite in a private home, it meant Johnny would be the only tenant, so he wouldn’t have to put up with any of the noisy neighbours that you inevitably wound up with in a large apartment building.
That would be a definite plus on those mornings when he came home exhausted from being up all night at a fire, and needed peace and quiet to sleep. He was even more sold on the idea when he discovered the apartment’s backyard butted up against the small parkette.
It had been an unexpected windfall from saving a victim’s life, but who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth? So Johnny jumped at the opportunity, and moved in two weeks later when his current lease was up. Which is how he currently ended up looking serenely out at the park enjoying his second cup of coffee of the day.
As the sun edged up higher over the horizon, Johnny smiled; the day ahead promised to be clear and warm. Looking down at the clock he saw that it was just approaching six o’clock… he still had plenty of time before he needed to head to the station for his shift. As he stood in the shower, relishing the warm water as hit against his back, he decided he would take his motorcycle into work that day. Getting an hour head start on his day meant he had time to take the long route into Carson, so he could enjoy the warm morning breeze.
By quarter to seven Johnny had showered, shaved and dressed. He stopped long enough to eat a bowl of cornflakes and down a glass of orange juice. After quickly brushing his teeth, he grabbed his leather jacket and keys and headed for the door. One final glance at the clock caused him to smile. It was just coming up on five to seven, which meant he had fifty five minutes to make the forty minute drive into work, and still be there by ten to eight. It was starting out to be a great day.
He had just stepped out into the hallway and was in the process of pulling his door shut, when the phone began to ring.
It must be Roy…who else would be calling at seven o’clock in the morning, he mused. He hoped Roy hadn’t come down with that gastric bug that was going around. The last thing he wanted on this perfect morning was to get stuck working with Brice for the next twenty-four hours.
He hurried back into the living room and picked up the receiver.
Johnny instantly recognised the voice as belonging to the supervisor at the equine rescue centre located just north of Los Angeles. Johnny had been volunteering his time there for a couple days each month for the past couple of years. He had never lost his love of horses, and he enjoyed being able to help out at the centre wherever he could.
While relieved that it wasn’t Roy calling to tell him he was sick; he wondered why his friend was calling him at this time of the day. Thankfully he didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
“Hey Johnny, its Jonah. I remembered you saying you were on duty today, and I was hoping to catch you before you left for work.”
“Hey Jonah,” Johnny replied. “You just caught me. I was on my way out the door. What’s up?”
“Look, I know you’re in a hurry so I won’t keep you… you’re off tomorrow, right?”
“That’s right, tomorrow and Tuesday. Why… do you need me to come up there and help out tomorrow?”
“Well, I was hoping you could. We have a group of horses coming in tomorrow afternoon. It’s a neglect case and the judge is expected to sign the seizure order first thing in the morning, so we can take ownership of them around noon and bring them back to the ranch.”
Johnny glanced down at his watch. He knew he couldn’t stay on the phone long if he wanted to take the long route into work and still make it on time. Still he couldn’t help but ask a few questions.
“How many horses are you talking about?” he asked.
“Four… three mares; all around five or six years old and a two year old gelding. Look, I know you were on your way out the door, but I just wanted to know if we can count on your coming tomorrow… we’d really like your opinion…and maybe a little help getting them settled in.”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah, sure I can be there, but I won’t get home from my shift until around nine, and if we’ve been out on runs during the night, I usually like to grab a nap for a couple hours. Give me until noon and then I’ll grab some lunch head out… I should be there about two.”
“How about I swing by your place at noon and pick you up. We’ll grab some drive thru on the way. That way we can be there by one … I’ll even pay for lunch.”
Johnny could hear the amusement in Jonah’s voice and couldn’t help but smile. He always knew the way to Johnny’s heart…horses and food.
“Okay, you got a deal, but only if the drive thru includes a double cheeseburger, large fries and a strawberry milkshake.”
This time Jonah laughed out loud.
“Okay, you gotta deal… look, I’m going to let you go now, but I’ll see ya tomorrow. Have a good one, John… and be safe.”
“Okay… See ya around noon.”
Johnny set the receiver back in its cradle, quickly snatched up his keys, and hurried out the door to work. As he started his bike, he took another glance at his watch. Even with the slight delay of the phone call from Jonah, he still had plenty of time to take the long way into work.
~ ~ ~
Johnny made good time as he headed to the station. The warm June breeze felt invigorating against his skin. I should do this more often, he mused. He had decided to skip his planned stop at the coffee shop and just head right into work. He knew he would arrive earlier than the rest of his shift mates, which also meant he would get first crack at C shifts coffee. Charlie Wilson’s coffee was legendary among the department. He could grab himself a mug before the rest of the ‘A’ shift arrived to drain the pot dry and still have plenty of time to change into his uniform.
As he turned into the station’s parking lot, he was a more than a little surprised to see that Chet had beaten him to work. As he drove further into the parking area, he realized why. Chet’s cousin, Frank Kelly was leaning across the front seat of his pickup truck, handing Chet’s uniform out the passenger side window. It was still encased in the clear plastic dry cleaning bag.
That could only mean one thing; Chet’s bucket of bolts must have broken down again. At least once a month, Chet’s vehicle would break down and he would have to bum a ride from his cousin, Frank.
Frank Kelly had to drive right by the station to get to his job as a high school janitor, and was usually happy to drop Chet off. But since both men had to be at work by eight in the morning, Chet had to be dropped off early enough so that Frank could still make it to the high school on time.
Johnny was already grinning as he pulled in and brought his bike to a stop; parking it in the place he usually used for his Rover. Slipping off his helmet, he got off the motorcycle and sauntered over to Frank’s truck and leaned against the hood near the open window.
Johnny pushed back the dark hair from his forehead and stuck out his hand, “Hey, Frank…long time, no see; how’s everything going?”
“I’m good, John,” The older man said, shaking the proffered hand.” I see you came in early today too?”
“Yeah… well I woke up early, and since it was such a nice morning, I decided to ride my bike to work, and take the scenic route in,” the medic explained.
Johnny’s attention shifted over to where his shift mate stood wrestling with the dry cleaning bag as it twisted in the brisk morning breeze.
Johnny directed his next statement towards the curly headed man. “I figured I would be the first one in today, Chet.” He paused, a sly grin slipping over his features. “Now I just wonder what it was that brought you in so early today?” he asked, feigning innocence.
Frank snorted.” His old jalopy broke down again last night and he needed a ride into work today. I told him I could give him a ride but he would have to be ready to be out the door by quarter after seven.”
Johnny chuckled. “When are you going to take that old rust bucket to the junk yard and put it out of its misery, Chet?”
Chet puffed up indignantly. “No way, Gage… that camper and I have a lot of great memories together… she just needs a day in the shop and she’ll be fine.”
Johnny shook his head and laughed as he walked back to his bike, setting his helmet on the seat.
Frank leaned out the window of the pickup, craning his neck so he could watch the Paramedic as he walked back to his bike, his eyes trailing over the motorcycle as Johnny began wiping some dust off the fender.
“I didn’t know you owned a bike, John?” he called out.
“Yep… I’ve had her since I was eighteen. It was a graduation gift from my Aunt when I finished high school. She promised me a car if I got straight A’s.” Johnny answered proudly.
“It was my main incentive for studying so hard; but about three weeks before my graduation, I saw a sign at the local gas station, advertising this bike for sale; so I went straight home and told my Aunt that I’d rather have this bike instead of a car.”
Johnny chuckled softly. “I know my Aunt wasn’t too crazy about the idea of my having a motorcycle, but she always did have a hard time saying no to me. It took me about a week of pleading and giving her my best hang-dog look, but in the end, she gave in and bought me the bike.”
“Can I take a closer look at it?” Frank asked; his eyes full of envy.
“Be my guest,” Johnny said, as he made a sweeping gesture over the length of his bike.
The older Kelly grinned like a kid in a candy store, flew out of his truck, and high-tailed it across the parking lot.
“That’s a 1954 Indian,” Frank said in awe as he ran his hand along the leather seat. And it’s in mint condition too.”
Johnny could hear Chet scoff as he approached the other two men. “Of course it’s an Indian…what other kind would Gage own?”
Frank rolled his eyes, and looked over apologetically at Johnny.
“Oh, grow up, Chet,” he ordered before turning back to the motorcycle with a wistful look in his eyes.
“You wouldn’t be interested in selling her, would you?” he asked hopefully.
Johnny shook his head vehemently. “Not a chance. I use this baby to take long rides along the coast when we only get a day off in between shifts. With only one day off, I can’t go camping, but I can always jump on this girl and ride up the coast for a day trip.”
“Man that sounds like heaven. You’re one lucky man, Johnny.”
Johnny looked over at the man, curiously. “I didn’t know you were into bikes, Frank. Are you thinking about getting one of your own?”
“Are you kidding?” Frank said with an air of incredulity. “I love motorcycles… I used to own one when I was in my early twenties. In fact I had this exact same bike,” he said with a whimsical smile.
The smile faded, “but I sold it years ago.”
“It was the year after I got married. Bonnie had just found out she was pregnant with our daughter Judy. Of course that meant doctor’s bills and a bigger apartment; which came with a much higher rent. I always meant to get another bike when I got my first real decent paying job,” he paused with a dismissive shrug.
“But you know how it is… life just sort of takes over. Motorcycles and being a family man just don’t go well together. By the time Judy was ready to start school, Bonnie and I had bought a house with a yard for Judy to play in. Shortly after that came the first dog, mortgage payments, car payments, piano lessons, and dentist visits.”
Franks sighed. “Before I knew it, twenty years had passed. But now that Bonnie and I are divorced, and my daughter is out on her own; my brother Lonnie and I have been talking about getting a couple of bikes and heading up to camp in Yosemite for a week this summer. We used to do that every Fourth of July … before I met and married Bonnie.”
“Ah….a family tradition was it?” Johnny asked curiously.
“Not really,” Frank replied with a shrug. “It was just an excuse for us to get together and ride. We could have been going anywhere. We just so happened to choose Yosemite because it was close and convenient.”
Frank ran his hand lovingly along the leather seat and sighed. “Are you sure you won’t part with it? I would pay top dollar for her. It would be like owning a piece of my youth again,” he asked hopefully.
“Sorry, no deal,” Johnny said firmly.
“Yeah, I understand,” Frank said resignedly. “But if you ever change your mind…promise me you’ll give me first chance to buy her?”
Johnny laughed. “It’s not going to happen…but okay, I promise.”
Johnny’s attention was pulled away by the sight of Captain Stanley’s car as it pulled up in front of the station. The freeway was busy with early morning commuters and Cap was stopped, waiting for a lull in traffic so he could make his left turn into the parking lot.
Glancing down at his watch, Johnny realized that it was almost twenty to eight. The others would be arriving within the next five minutes or so. If he didn’t get inside soon, he would miss out on Charlie Wilson’s coffee. Once Hank entered the station, rank would dictate he got first dibs on any coffee that might be left.
The two Kelly cousins had walked back over to Frank’s truck, but Johnny could hear their voices carrying across the parking lot…”Judy will be by tomorrow morning at 8:30 to pick you up and take you to the garage to pick up your camper.”
Johnny snatched up his helmet and called across the parking lot, “I am going to go get changed out of my civvies…good to see you again, Frank.”
Frank paused in his conversation with Chet and waved. “You too, Johnny; And I mean it….if you ever want to sell her, I call first dibs.”
Johnny paused, with one hand on the door and he waved back with the other; “Not likely, Frank… but okay.”
The dark haired medic left the two cousins to say their good byes and entered the kitchen; his face breaking out in a huge grin when he saw Charlie standing by the stove with the half full coffee pot in his hand.
“I’ll take a mug of that,” he crowed happily.
Charlie’s partner, Burt chuckled. “Hey, Partner, your coffee is so famous you’ve even got Gage coming in early just to grab some.”
Johnny laughed at the good natured teasing. ”Yup… Charlie’s coffee is legendary,” he agreed.
“Well we just got back from a dumpster fire a half hour ago, so it is nice and fresh,” Charlie said as he filled a mug for the newcomer.
Johnny grabbed the mug of steaming brew that Charlie brought over and headed toward the locker room. He caught a glimpse of Cap’s car as he pulled into his parking space, through the window. It never hurt to make a good impression on your Captain by being the first one dressed and ready for the shift…an honour usually scooped up by Stoker. Johnny laid his open hand on the swinging door and gave it a shove, calling back over his shoulder as he exited the kitchen.
“Do me a favour Charlie, and save the last mug for Cap. It’s always better to start off the shift with him in a good mood.”
“Just as long as you get yours first, eh Gage?” Charlie quipped.
The sound of the entire ‘C’ shift’s laughter followed Johnny into the locker room.
Johnny was in the process of tying up the laces on his work boots when Hank walked into the locker room. He looked over at his youngest crew member with a nod of approval. “Nice to see you in and ready before everyone else today, John.”
Johnny finished tying up the bootlace and glanced up with a grin. “Thanks Cap,” he said as he stood up and used his hand to smooth out the creases in his pants. “I woke up early so I decided to get a jump on the day.” The younger man saw the mug in his superior officer’s hand and grinned. He lifted his own mug of Charlie Wilson’s coffee in a mock toast; “to the early bird getting the worm…and the coffee,” he declared.
“Being first does have its perks,” Cap agreed with a quiet chuckle. “Now you’ve discovered the real reason Stoker and I are usually the first ones in.”
The words had barely left his lips when Mike and Roy walked into the locker room. Stoker had arrived in full uniform as usual. He saw the mug of coffee in younger Paramedic’s hands and glowered.
Johnny shrugged sheepishly, “first come, first served,” he proclaimed.
“Is that anything like calling, shotgun?” Roy asked with a grin. The Engineer grunted and headed out to Big Red so he could check over his ‘baby’ before the shift began. As he exited the locker room, he brushed against Captain Hookraider coming in.
“I thought I heard your voices in here,” C shift’s Captain said looking over at Hank and the two Paramedics.
“The Squad was called out just as we were getting back from that dumpster fire forty five minutes ago. Dwyer and Carlson had to meet up with copter 10 so they could fly them out to a water rescue. Apparently a couple of speed boats were in some kind of collision. They should be back soon.”
Roy looked over at his partner. “It looks like we are going to have a slow start to the day,” he observed.
“It also means C shift may not get a chance to restock before they get back, so be prepared to make a run to Rampart if they don’t.”
“Will do,” Roy acknowledged.
The two Captains, headed to the office to discuss any further business so Captain Hook could hand off the reigns to Hank.
Roy opened the door to his locker and began to unbutton his shirt.
“You’re here early,” he remarked to his partner.
“Woke up early,” Johnny explained.
“I thought you had a date with Ramona last night? Usually after a date you’re the last one in; which can only mean one thing…that your date with Ramona did not go well.”
Johnny nodded. “It didn’t go at all. Ramona decided that firefighters are not her type... couldn’t put up with the cancelled dates because I got called in to cover shifts a couple of times and had to back out on our dates.” He shrugged dismissively. “At least she was nice about it… even told me before I spent the cash on dinner and a movie.”
Roy smirked. Johnny’s tightness was legendary, which was proven by that fact that his biggest concern wasn’t over the loss of the relationship, but that he hadn’t wasted money on the date. But then again, Johnny was rarely ever broken up about his failed relationships. When it came to his affairs of the heart, John Gage broke the rebound speed record. It was due in large part to the fact that his partner was nowhere close to being ready to settle down.
At this stage of his life, Johnny’s relationships were based solely on physical attraction and carnal satisfaction…which was usually the case for both participants. Johnny was a good looking man, and while his girlfriends may have been less than enamoured by his slightly misogynistic personality, they never seemed to have a complaint when it came to the bedroom.
Both of these truths were borne out by the fact that Johnny never seemed to have much trouble finding a new girl. Their numbers and beauty were surpassed in their brilliance only by the tales of the daring and heroic rescues, his partner used to capture their attention in the first place; a fact which would frustrate Chet to no end; mainly because the young man’s harrowing tales were certainly true, albeit a bit embellished at times.
So while his partner may go through women like a box of tissues, he was never really that upset when they ended.
The next words out of the younger man’s mouth indicated that he had already put Ramona behind him.
“It’s okay,” he said dismissively. “There’s a new nurse who just started working at Rampart last week. Dix told me her name is Julia. Just wait until you see her Roy,” the younger man said with a wolfish grin. “She’s incredible.” Johnny puffed up his chest and looked over at Roy with a smug grin. “Dix also told me that this Julia was asking about me. Now that I am free again, I think maybe I will just go see if I can get myself a date for next Friday night.”
Roy was about to comment when Marco strolled into the locker room. “Good morning guys,” he greeted. The linesman sounded out of breath, almost as if he’d been running.
“I was afraid I was going to be late, because it’s my turn to bring in the doughnuts, and the lineup was insane today.” Marco looked up at the clock and grimaced as he realized he had barely five minutes to get into his uniform. By this time Roy had finished dressing and was just pinning his badge onto the front of his shirt.
“I hope you got lots of jelly filled,” Johnny said as he gave Smokey the traditional two taps before closing his locker door.
Marco nodded. “I brought in four jelly filled, four chocolate dipped, two Boston creams, and two eclairs, but you better hurry if you want a jelly filled; Chet was already on his second one when I left the kitchen,” he advised the medic. Johnny instantly sprang off the bench and dashed into the kitchen, leaving Roy alone with Marco.
Roy shook his head, “He’s got more energy than a month old puppy… and that’s before the sugar rush kicks in.” He threw Marco a grin before following his partner into the kitchen.
Chet was standing at the counter, licking the jelly residue from his fingers when Johnny entered into the kitchen and grabbed one of the last two jelly filled treats from the box.
Roy came up behind from behind and snagged a chocolate dipped for himself. The rest of C shift left the box alone. They had had their own at the beginning of their shift and it was understood, you didn’t pilfer the incoming shifts pastries…it was an unwritten rule they all obeyed.
As the men stood around making small talk, both Captains’ Stanley and Hookraider came into the kitchen to tell C shift they could home, now that all the men of A shift had arrived.
Chet grabbed a mug from the cupboard and went to pour himself a cup of coffee to take with him as he changed into his uniform. He picked up the empty coffee pot and frowned. He glanced around the room and noticed Johnny with a mug of Charlie’s coffee in his hand and bristled. He walked up to the junior paramedic and waved the empty coffee pot in front of the younger medic’s face.
“Hey Gage, you know the rule… you drain it, you make the next one.”
Johnny actually made great coffee; but then again he drank more than the others did, so practice had honed his skills; but Charlie Wilson still far outdistanced every other firefighter when it came to cooking in the kitchen, and Chet was put out that even though he had arrived early, he had missed out on Charlie’s coffee. It was a rare event that Chet ever arrived early enough to grab some.
“For your information, Kelly, I drank the last cup.” Cap informed the linesman. “But since you have so much to say on the matter Chet, you can do it today.”
Johnny nodded in quiet satisfaction, a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Normally the one who drained it, made the next pot…except when it was Cap. Rank did have its privileges; and although Hank was usually fair enough to make a new pot when it was his turn, he made terrible coffee; it was just that no one was brave enough to tell him.
“Sure thing, Cap,” Chet said obediently. He paused as he walked over to the stove, pulling a slip of paper out of his breast pocket. “Here Johnny, Frank said to give you this, just in case.” He thrust a slip of paper with Frank’s phone number scrawled across it into Johnny’s hand.
Mike and a now fully dressed Marco entered the kitchen and joined the crew at the table; each man choosing a Boston Cream for themselves.
“You know, Johnny.” Chet said as he scooped coffee into the filter; “that leather Jacket of yours would look great with my new cowboy boots. How about lending it to me for my date tomorrow night with Debbie?”
“I doubt it Chet,” Johnny scoffed.
“Don’t be so stingy, Gage,” Chet said as he got the new pot of coffee brewing. “It’s only for one night.”
Johnny shoved the last bite of his doughnut into his mouth and brushed his hands together to get rid of the last traces of white powder. “No way Kelly, that jacket was a gift from my Aunt when I graduated from the academy…and it cost her an arm and a leg. There’s no way I could ever afford to replace it if you wrecked it. Besides, even if I did say yes, there is still no way you could wear it.”
Chet, now finished with his task, joined him at the table. “Oh….and why not?” he said as he reached over and snagged the last jelly donut and shoved half the pastry into his mouth, getting white powder and jelly all over his mustache.
“That,” Johnny said nonchalantly, pointing to Chet’s stuffed mouth, “is why.”
Chet swallowed down the pastry in his mouth before speaking. “You mean because I took both jelly donuts and now you’re pouting?”
“Actually you ate three out of the four, Chet,” Marco corrected.
Cap rolled his eyes. They hadn’t even gotten around to roll call, and already the two youngest crew members were at it. It was shaping up to be a very long day.
“No… it’s called science, Chester,” Johnny replied matter of factly.
Now everyone was looking at the youngest crew member, like he’d grown a third arm.
“Okay…now you’ve lost all of us,” Roy said, looking around as the others nodded in agreement. “What has science got to do with it?”
“Simple,” Johnny said, walking over to where Chet stood wiping the white powder off his moustache. When he got beside the curly headed man, he reached over and poked his belly. “You simply can’t put twenty pounds of sugar in a five pound bag,” he explained with a smirk, before turning on his heels and walking out of the kitchen, leaving Chet red faced while the rest of the men chuckled.
Cap, looked over at the indignant lineman. “Kelly, how about putting your uniform on pal, before we get toned out with you still in your civvies.”
“Right Cap,” the linesman said with a scowl at his grinning crewmates. As he approached the door, he was almost bowled over by Johnny coming back into the kitchen.
“Squad’s back,” the junior medic said as he sidestepped Chet.
“Watch it, Gage,” Chet groused. “You almost took my head off, coming through the door like that.”
“Oh shut up, Chet,” Johnny barked back.
Hank stepped forward, “Kelly, go get changed. Gage you and DeSoto go see if they had a chance to restock the squad. If not you’ll have to head over to Rampart as soon as roll call is over.”
Five minutes later found a dressed Chet Kelly standing in kitchen with the rest of the A shift. Thankfully the outgoing Paramedics had restocked before they left Rampart.
Captain Hookraider had stayed as was the standard with most Captains when any of their men were still out on a call when shift change occurred. It was understood that the Captain never left until all his men were back home safe.
“By the way, men,” Captain Hookraider informed them as he was getting ready to finally leave. “Captain Sinclair over at 110’s is planning on throwing a surprise birthday party for Brice…everyone is invited.” The older Captain turned to Hank. “Good man Brice… knows how to be disciplined.”
Every man stopped and turned to stare in shock.
“I’m sure all of you men, as his friends will be there,” Hookraider finished.
“Friends?” Johnny silently, mouthed behind Hookraider’s back earning him a smirk from Roy and a glare from Cap.
“Its being held at the Sinclair’s next month on the tenth, and it will be an evening affair, no gifts, just a friendly get together. I promised Captain Sinclair I would spread the word,” the older man finished.
Having made his announcement, Captain Hookraider took his leave, leaving the A shift standing in the kitchen dumbfounded.
As usual it was Johnny who was the first to find his voice.
“Well I don’t know about you guys, but there is no way I am giving up one of my evenings off for the likes of Craig Brice…birthday or not.”
“Well somebody needs to go… it would look bad if no one from this shift shows up,” Cap said.
“We could just say we’re busy and we can’t fit it in,” Johnny said diplomatically.
“Or you could say we actually have nothing to do, but we just don’t want to go because he is a jerk,” Chet groused, earning him an elbow in the ribs from Marco. Johnny and Roy sniggered, while Cap looked decidedly fed up.
“Aw come on Cap….you don’t actually expect anyone to show up do you?” Roy asked.
Hank sighed; “He’s not that bad…” he began, but was interrupted by Johnny.
“He’s like a horse fly, not deadly but extremely irritating.”
Hank was in a bind. He couldn’t order his men to go. What they did on their free time was up to them. “Come on guys,” he pleaded. “Someone has to show up or it would look bad… and since he is a Paramedic,” he said directing his comment at Roy and Johnny.
“No way, Cap,” Johnny said adamantly. “It’s bad enough we have to put up with him at the Paramedic meetings… I think it’s time for someone else to take one for the team.”
“I thought it was a Paramedics job to show compassion,” Hank groused.
Johnny shrugged; “We wear several hats, Cap,” he replied with a grin.
No one had noticed that Marco had slipped out of the room, until they heard a whoop coming from the area of Cap’s office. A moment later the linesman bounded back into the kitchen; “Good news, Amigos,” he sang out, “We’re off the hook. I just checked the schedule and we’re on duty that night.”
Chet grinned. “I’ll have to make a note not to change shifts with anyone on that day. I bet guys will be lining up to ask. Even pulling an overtime shift beats spending an evening toasting Craig Brice.”
“Good thinkin’ Chet,” Johnny agreed, making a mental note to remember not to get suckered into changing shifts for that day either. Like Chet, he was sure someone would try to trick him into changing with them in an effort to have a legitimate reason for not showing up.
Hank had to admit he was feeling more than a little relieved himself. He walked over to the coffee pot, and poured himself a second cup.
“Roll call in five minutes gentlemen,” he announced as he headed to his office to grab the duty roster.
Back in the kitchen Roy turned to Johnny.
“Say, Junior, now that you and Ramona are no longer an item, how about coming over to my house tomorrow to help me out? Joanne is planning on buying a bunch of rose bushes and she expects me to plant them all on my day off. If you’ll come over I promise you, I’ll have Jo make a pot roast for supper.”
Chet’s instantly perked up. “Do my ears deceive me, or did I just hear Roy say you got dumped again, Gage? What’s the matter? Did you make her pay for her own meal?”
Johnny rolled his eyes and threw Roy his best, thanks a lot, look.
“For your information, Chet,” Johnny countered. “We parted on good terms. It had nothing to do with anything I did, or did not do. She just decided that she couldn’t hack the schedules firefighters keep. I got called in to cover someone else’s shift a couple of times, and had to cancel out on some dates. But she understood that there was nothing I could do about it. It was my job she didn’t like…not me.”
“It takes a special kind of woman to be a firefighter’s wife,” Roy agreed.
“Don’t kid yourself, Gage,” Chet baited. “She was just trying to spare your feelings. Face it, Johnny, you just don’t know how to hang onto a chick. Now you take me and Debbie… we’ve been going together for over three months,” the linesman bragged.
“Yeah well, there’s just no accounting for taste,” Johnny shot back.
“Haven’t you noticed by now? I am just better at pleasing the chicks than you are, Gage,” Chet said, his chest puffed up with pride.
Johnny shot him a baleful look. “Well, you are right about one thing…I haven’t noticed.”
“Now you take me and Debbie,” Chet continued. “Yesterday I took her on an all day picnic to the beach. The entire day I sat on a blanket and read poetry to her. And do you know why?” he asked.
“Because you like the sound of your own voice?” Roy asked, earning him a hearty back slap from his partner.
“No,” Chet answered undaunted. “It’s because in the art of dating chicks, I’m just better at knowing how to keep them happy, than you are, Johnny-boy.”
Johnny scoffed. “Chet, there is no way on earth you are better at dating than I am.”
“Face it, Gage,’ Chet declared. “You wouldn’t stand a chance against me in a dating contest because you don’t put enough effort into the task. You have to be fully committed to win, and you see that’s what I have, that you don’t… I am fully committed.”
Johnny looked at Roy and rolled his eyes, before answering. “Well, Chet, I have to give you that one. I have known for a long time that you should be committed.”
Roy thought about trying to break things up, but he figured it was easier to just let them prattle on until they exhausted the subject. Thankfully Cap chose that moment to return to the kitchen.
“If you two are finished sparring, I’d like to get on with roll call,” he said holding up his clipboard. The two men kept tossing barbs back and forth all the way into the bay, while a longsuffering Roy followed behind.
Hank quickly went through the morning announcements and then began handing out chores. “Mike, you’re cooking and cleaning the kitchen, Marco, you check and inventory the air bottles and mop the bay floor. The Engine got a late shift run, so Chet, you and John can hang the hoses … Roy you get the latrines.”
As every man scattered, the sound of Chet and Johnny arguing over which one of them was better at pleasing women continued all the way into the kitchen.
Hank walked over and put his hand on Roy’s shoulder. “Sorry about giving you the latrine Pal. But I gave Kelly and Gage the hoses because I am tired of listening to their bickering, and I can’t hear those two twits if they’re outside.”
The rest of the men grinned. “Now that’s wisdom,” Mike observed.
“That’s why I get the big bucks,” Cap returned with a grin.
Back in the kitchen, Chet headed over to the stove and poured himself a mug of coffee, and grabbed up the morning paper from the table.
Johnny looked at him in disbelief. “What are you doing, Chet? We have to get out there and get those hoses hung.”
Chet took his mug and sat on the couch, ignoring his shift mate’s protests.
Johnny followed him over to the couch and stood in front of him, hands on his hips.
“Kelly, I am not waiting for you to have a coffee break. I want to get out there and get the job done before it gets too hot out there.”
Chet looked over the top of the paper and cocked an eyebrow at the paramedic. “I didn’t realize you had such a delicate constitution, Johnny. Besides, Cap just said to do it… he didn’t say we had to do it instantly. I want another cup of coffee first, and a chance to read the paper before it gets busy around here.”
Johnny was about to argue back, but was saved from having to do so, because as it happened Cap had entered the kitchen unnoticed, hoping to get a another cup of coffee himself.
“Well I’m saying it now, Kelly…do it this instant. John’s right, it’s better to do it before the day gets any hotter.”
Johnny stuck out his tongue and gave Chet an, ‘I told you so’ smirk, and headed outside.
“Oh real mature, Gage,” Chet said as he followed him outside.
An hour later, Roy found Johnny at his locker with a bottle of Aspirin in his hand.
“Got a headache?” he asked.
Johnny nodded as he took two of the tablets and returned the bottle of pills to the top shelf of his locker. He pushed the locker door closed, and walked over to the sink.
“I’m pretty sure it is just residual pain left over from the last time Cap assigned me to hang hose with Chet,” he said tiredly.
Turning on the cold water tap, Johnny popped the pills into his mouth. He leaned over and splashed some cool water on his face before cupping his hands and filling them up with water. When he was sure he had enough water pooled in his hands, he raised them to his lips and drank in enough liquid to get the pills down.
“You know we have a paper cup dispenser on the wall,” Roy pointed out.
Johnny shrugged. “My hands work just as well,” he replied as he pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser on the wall.
He had just finished drying his hands when the klaxons went off, sending the entire station to an MVA. The partner’s ran for the squad, each heading to their traditional sides. As Johnny slid into the cab, he grabbed for his helmet, and plopped down onto his head, leaving the chin strap dangling loose.
Roy slid in behind the wheel and snatched the call slip out of Cap’s hand and held it out to Johnny, while Johnny grabbed the road map from the glove box to double check the directions. “Turn left,” he instructed as his eyes scanned the map.
Roy grunted an acknowledgement, and flipped on the lights and sirens as he pulled out of the bay, the engine following close behind.
As they pulled up to the scene, Johnny leaned forward and peered out the windshield; as if putting his face eight inches closer to the carnage in front of him would change what he was seeing.
Fifty feet in front of them, he saw a black firebird, its passenger door kinked in, the front fender a crumpled mass of steel. The front passenger side wheel was jutting out completely sideways. It had stopped crossways in the centre of the road, and was surrounded by leaking fluid, pieces of broken headlight, along with various other bits of wreckage that were strewn across the pavement.
He also saw, a silver Karmann Ghia convertible flipped over on its side, resting against the guardrail on the west side of the road, about a hundred feet past the on ramp. Further up the road, was a third vehicle; a red pickup truck that had gone through the guardrail and was hanging suspended over the edge of a steep cliff. Something on the undercarriage had obviously gotten snagged on the guardrail …whatever that something was; it was the only thing that was keeping the truck from plunging onto the rocks below.
Johnny gave a low whistle as Roy pulled the squad up until it was twenty feet behind the firebird. The dark haired medic had a pretty good idea about what had happened here. The debris field and the positions of the cars told the tale. He and Roy had seen it too many times in the past. Usually it was the result of short tempers and impatience, when one driver tried to gun it onto the highway a bit too quickly, and the other not willing, or perhaps not able to get over to allow him access onto the road, resulting in the crash.
And then he and Roy had to treat the entire incident as an accident…a word applied to many situations that were not accidental at all, but was an entirely preventable situation had everyone done what they were supposed to do at the on ramp.
The squad had barely stopped before Johnny jumped out of the cab, and began pulling out equipment. Roy exited the squad, ran around the front, and grabbed the trauma box out of Johnny’s hands as the younger medic pulled out the biophone and headed toward the mangled mass steel that had once been a Firebird.
“I’ll check the Bird…you get the Ghia.” Johnny yelled over his shoulder, his pace quickening with each step. Roy nodded and headed in the direction of the overturned convertible.
Mike pulled the Engine up behind the pickup truck, while the rest of the crew hopped out and awaited orders. Hank quickly surveyed the situation, grimacing as he saw how precariously the truck was teetering over the edge of the cliff. He immediately called for a second squad and an ambulance. He then ran over to see if he could make contact with the pickup’s driver.
Hank made his way over to the edge of the broken guardrail and leaned out as far as he safely could. He could see the driver of the pickup truck sitting conscious, but frozen in the front seat. Thankfully the drivers’ side window was open.
“Hey, down there, can you hear me?” Hank called out to the man. Slowly the man turned his head and looked up at the Captain. “Yeah… get me outta here, will ya.” He pleaded with a frantic voice.
“Just hang tight…we’ll be down as soon as we can. Are you alone?’
“There’s just me,” came the shaky reply.
“Are you hurt anywhere?” Hank asked again.
“N-no…not really. My foot got jammed underneath the pedal, and I think it may be broken, but otherwise I’m fine.”
“Okay, just don’t move…keep as still as you can,” Hank cautioned.
“Don’t worry…I’m too terrified to move,” the man assured Hank.
The trapped man had no sooner uttered the words when a gust of wind, sent the pickup rocking dangerously.
“Hurry please,” came the plaintive cry from inside the truck.
Hank turned to his Engineer. “Mike you and Marco, go grab some ropes and tie off the pickup. We’ll have to use the engine as an anchor. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best we’ve got. I don’t think this guy’s got much time… not with this wind.”
He turned around to check on the rest of his crew, and saw Johnny rise from his spot beside the driver of the Firebird, and jog over to Roy. Hank turned to Chet. “Kelly, go see if either John or Roy are free to come over here. Tell them I’ve got another squad on the way.”
“Right, Cap,” Chet nodded, and took off towards the Paramedics.
~ ~ ~
Inside the Firebird, Johnny found a man in his thirties sitting behind the wheel, with a rather dazed expression on his face. But other than a small gash on his forehead he appeared to be shaken, but relatively unscathed.
“Hey there,” Johnny greeted as he knelt down so he could examine the man. He pulled out his pen light and began to check the man’s pupils.” Can you tell me your name?”
The man snapped out of his stupor and stared at the dark haired man. “Jeff,” he answered slowly. “Jeffrey Pringle.”
Johnny nodded in acknowledgement and held up three fingers in front of the man’s eyes. “Well, Jeff, my name’s John Gage, and I’m a Paramedic with the fire department … can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
“Three,” Jeff answered absently, as he turned his head to survey the damage to his car. “Man…that guy in the convertible just came flying off the on ramp and plowed into me,” he complained.
“I figured it was something like that,” Johnny confirmed. “Do you have a headache or any dizziness?”
“None,” the man said with a slight shake of his head. My head’s sore from where it hit the steering wheel, but it’s not a headache.”
“Okay, that’s good,” Johnny said as he grabbed hold of the man’s wrist and began taking his pulse. “Are you hurting anywhere else?” He asked as he shifted his hand to the man’s abdomen so he could count his respirations.”
The man grinned tiredly. “Well, I’m sure I’m gonna be sore tomorrow, but right now the only thing bothering me is this bump on the head.”
Johnny quickly did a cursory check of the man’s neck and spine, as well as his limbs, before sitting back on his haunches.
“Okay, Jeff. Well you don’t look too bad, but we’ll take you in to the hospital to be checked out, just to be sure.” He patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. “You just hang tight for a few minutes, okay? I need to go and check out the situation with the other drivers, but someone will be back here in a minute or two.”
Johnny jogged over to his partner. “Whadya got, Roy?” he asked.
Roy shook his head. “Unrestrained driver … looks like he was thrown from the vehicle before it hit the guard rail. So far I got a separated shoulder, broken clavicle and at least three ribs on the right side. I’m guessing he has a moderate concussion as well; he’s unconscious, but responding to pain… how about you?”
Johnny shook his head. “Mine’s okay for now. A little shook up, and a bump on the head but his reactions are all normal, and his pulse and respiration are both good.”
Chet ran up and stood beside the younger paramedic. “Cap wants to know if one of you can go over there. He says he’s already called for another squad…it should be here soon.” As if on cue, the sounds of approaching sirens could be heard as squad 110 rolled up on the scene.
Roy looked up at his partner. “Go, Johnny. I’ll get Kirk and Wheeler to help me out here.”
As the lightest man in the department, it was a given that if someone was needed to go over the edge of the guardrail and pull the victim out of the truck, Johnny would be the one going. In situations like this, those larger firefighters with more weight and bulk became a hindrance. Johnny ran to the squad and pulled out his turnout coat, grabbed his gloves and safety belt and followed Chet over to Hank.
“What’s the situation, Cap?” the younger man questioned.
Hank turned and saw that it was Johnny who had come over. He hated that it always seemed to be his youngest crew member who got these jobs; but the less added weight on the pickup the better.
“Well, it looks like the back axel is caught up on the guard rail. It’s holding for now, but I can’t let you go down there until we get it stabilized, otherwise it could end up killing the driver and you. Marco and Mike are getting it tied off to the engine, right now.”
“Have you been able to make contact with the driver?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah,” Cap confirmed. “He says it’s just him and he’s okay except for his foot. He thinks it may be broken. What about the other drivers?” he asked.
Johnny rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Well, the Firebird driver has a bump on the head, but he’s mostly just shook up. The driver of the Karmann Ghia was unrestrained and was thrown from the convertible; Roy says he’s got a concussion, dislocated shoulder, broken clavicle, possible rib fractures.”
Johnny looked over and noticed that Kirk was now starting an IV while Roy was on the biophone with Rampart. Wheeler was over with the driver of the Firebird. The dark haired medic returned his gaze to the pickup truck with a frown.
“Can you radio for another ambulance, Cap? I don’t think Roy’s victim can wait while we extricate this other guy… who knows how long it’s gonna take.”
Cap nodded in agreement and lifted the HT to his mouth and called for another ambulance.
Marco waved his arms in order to catch Hank’s attention, shouting over the rising wind. “Okay, Cap; we’ve got her as stable as she’s gonna get.”
By this time Vince had arrived and joined the group of men standing next to the pickup. “Can you give me the low down on what we’ve got?” the officer asked.
Cap walked over to where the officer stood, his notepad already open, “Well, according to John, the driver of the convertible was a bit too impatient at the on ramp and T-boned the Firebird. I’m not too sure how the pickup ended up where it is, because we haven’t had a chance to speak to the driver at length yet.”
Johnny’s never took his eyes off the scene as Hank explained what they knew so far. The Paramedic nodded in agreement, only half listening to the conversation as he put on his safety belt. The wind had really picked up in the past hour and it would only make things more difficult. It was already causing the truck to rock and sway despite being tied off.
The first ambulance arrived and Johnny glanced over in time to see Roy and Kirk loading up his victim, while Wheeler walked the driver of the Firebird to the back of the emergency vehicle and helped him inside. Johnny saw his partner talking with Kirk for a few minutes before Kirk hoisted himself into the back of the ambulance. Wheeler came over with the trauma box and biophone from squad 110 and slid them in behind his partner, before closing the door and signaling the driver that he was good to go.
Now that the Karmann Ghia driver was on the way to Rampart with 110’s, Roy joined his partner where he stood talking with Cap. He scanned the scene before him and threw Hank an expectant look.
Cap rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. “Okay, John, I guess it’s now or never, Pal. What do you think?”
“I think I’ve just lowered my life expectancy,” the younger man quipped as he tightened the chin strap on his helmet.
Roy’s brow furrowed and he threw his partner an uneasy glance, while Cap frowned.
“Sorry,” Johnny said sheepishly. “I guess it’s not the time for gallows humour.” He looked at his superior and shrugged. “I’m gonna just have to go alongside the driver’s side door and see if I can ease him out. If he’s right and it’s only his foot, I’ll just hook a safety belt around him and you can haul us both up together. I can treat his foot once were back up here.”
“Just be careful, Junior,” Roy warned.
“Always,” Johnny said flashing his partner a crooked smile. He checked to make sure he was securely hooked to his line, as he secured the second safety belt to his rope.
With Chet and Marco on his line, Johnny eased himself over the edge and made a perfectly controlled descent, a skill honed by years of drills and practice. Guided by Chet from above, he felt himself lower until he was parallel to the drivers’ side door of the pickup.
He listened to the wind buffeting the pickup as it tugged at his turnouts. Johnny was just about to grab hold of the drivers’ side door handle so he could ease it open, when a sudden fugitive gust, stronger than the rest, slammed him into the vehicle. The momentum caused him to bounce away from the truck, as the rope began to spin around wildly.
The Paramedic’s head swam with a sudden wave of vertigo, and he grew momentarily disoriented. His stomach lurched as the spinning motion brought on a swell of nausea, and he had to fight the rising bile in the back of his throat.
Instinct caused him to react a split second before his training kicked in, and he reached out blindly trying to find purchase on anything that would be solid enough to steady himself. His hand brushed up against the truck bed and he grabbed onto it causing the entire truck to rock dangerously.
He was vaguely aware of frantic shouting drifting into his ears. Whether it was from his crewmates or the victim, he couldn’t tell; probably a bit of both.
Realizing what could happen if he continued to put more weight on the pickup truck, he immediately let go and waited out the ride. Gradually his senses and the scenery caught up to each other, and he was able to shake off the nausea and focus on his task.
“Are you okay, Johnny?’ Roy shouted anxiously. The rogue gust of wind had come out of nowhere and his partner had taken a hard hit to the shoulder.
“Yeah…yeah, I’m okay,” the younger man reassured his partner.
Now that his heart had climbed out of his boots and back into his chest, Johnny steadied his breathing and once again, made a reach for the handle on the drivers’ side door. This time he was successful as he slowly and carefully pulled the door open.
Sitting in the driver’s seat was a heavy set man in his sixties. His pallid fingers were curled around the steering wheel, holding it in a vice-like grip, as if it was the only thing keeping him from falling. He was sitting motionless, staring at the rocks seventy five feet below.
“Hey there,” Johnny said gently; “you just about ready to get outta here?”
Johnny’s words pulled the man out of his, ‘thousand yard’ stare as he turned to look at his rescuer with pleading eyes.
“Get me outta here,” he begged.
Johnny smiled at the man reassuringly. “That’s what I’m here for. You just sit still so I can get you out of here. My Captain said you told him the only thing you hurt was your foot?” he questioned.
The older man nodded. “I slammed my foot on the brake and when I went over I guess it got jammed underneath the pedal and twisted. I think it might be broken.”
“Is it still jammed?” Johnny asked. His eyes scanned the driver and it appeared the victim’s assessment of his injuries was accurate.
“No, it’s free, just hurts real bad,” the man said. “I was following behind that Firebird when he got clipped and I swerved to miss getting caught up in the mess. I guess I swerved a bit too aggressively,” he said with a shaky voice.
Johnny smiled, “You kinda zigged when you should have zagged,” he teased mildly. “But in your defense, you really didn’t have a lot of time to weigh out your options. When accidents like this happen, they usually happen too quickly for the innocent to get out of the way.”
“You can say that again,” the man said with a shaky laugh.
“So what’s your name?” Johnny asked as he began to remove the spare safety belt from his rope.
“Bill Turnbull. I’m a retired professor, and I was on my way to give a lecture at the university,” the victim answered.
“Well Bill, my name is John Gage, and I’m here to get you back up to the road safely…but I think you’re going to be late for your lecture.”
The man grinned weakly, but was still keeping his vice-like grip on the steering wheel. Johnny decided he needed to engage the man in further conversation in order to distract him enough to get his hands off the steering wheel.
“A professor, huh?” Johnny said as he laid the safety belt on the headrest behind Bill, where it would be handy.
“So what exactly do you profess?” the young rescuer asked in an effort to divert the man’s attention from everything that was going on around him.
The man looked momentarily taken aback by the question, before slowly breaking out into a pained grin. “Sociology,” he replied.
“Oh…that’s more my partners thing,” Johnny said. “He reads up on all that kind of stuff.”
“What do you like?” Bill asked.
Johnny reached inside the truck and gently lifted up the injured foot and examined it.
“Oh I like historical books, and the odd mystery, but mostly I prefer being outdoors in nature during my spare time.”
Bill hissed in pain as Johnny palpated the ankle around his foot.
“Sorry,” Johnny apologized. “It looks like you’re right. It’s definitely broken. Now I need you to listen to me carefully. There is no way I can climb inside the cab, so I need you to undo your seat belt for me and slide very carefully toward me, so I can get this safety belt around you.”
Bill nodded and took one hand off the steering wheel so he could unlatch the lap belt. For several seconds he pushed down on the release and tugged, but the belt stayed closed. After the third try he gave up and shook his head. “I can’t get the belt to release…I think it’s jammed.”
Johnny patted Bills arm in an effort to keep him calm. He carefully grasped the window frame on the pickup and leaned across Bill until his fingers touched upon seatbelt’s buckle. He pressed down on the latch but it refused to release. He blew out a quiet sigh. “Yup… it’s jammed,” he agreed.
“Well that much at least can be remedied,” the Paramedic reassured Bill. I’ll just cut the strap.” Johnny reached behind his back to his belt, pulled out his scissors, and began to work on the lap belt. He heaved a giant sigh of relief when he felt the strap separate into two pieces.
“Okay Bill, now I want you to slowly slide over and pivot around, then I am going to put this safety belt around you, and attach you to my safety line. Once you are on the line, you can’t fall, okay? My crew mates can haul us back up to the road… just let us do all the work. I’ll take a look at your foot once we’re back on solid ground.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bill agreed. “Are you sure they can pull us both up…I am not exactly a lightweight.”
“Of course they can,” Johnny said confidently. “Just trust me;” he paused to flash a crooked grin at the older man; “have I ever lied to you before?”
That coaxed a chuckle out of the frightened man, as he let go of the steering wheel entirely. He slowly pulled his body sideways, as Johnny gently guided his injured foot over the brake pedal and out the door. Johnny grabbed hold of the extra safety belt and had just wrapped it around Bills waist, when the metal guardrail groaned and began to give way. The action of metal grinding against metal caused a burst of sparks which made contact with some of the gas that had leaked out of the tank, causing the entire undercarriage to burst into flames.
The amount of adrenaline that pumped through Johnny’s system suddenly increased. Times up, Johnny thought; the truck was gonna go. He forgot about being gentle…he needed to fasten Bill’s safety belt so he could grab and go.
Bill had obviously come to the same conclusion, only he decided he wanted out of the truck now. The professor hurled his body out of the car and into Johnny’s arms, before the medic could get the belt secured. Johnny felt the air being pushed from his lungs as the heavyset met crashed into his body.
Thankfully he managed to wrap his left arm around Bill’s chest as the two men swayed, dangling seventy five feet above the rocks below. Johnny’s right arm ached, Bill’s added weight threatened to pull his arm out of its socket as he held on to the rope with his right hand. Slowly the air seeped back into his lungs and he was able to shake off the shock of having two hundred and fifty pounds of victim slamming into his body.
“Bill,” he gasped out.” I want you to grab onto the rope with your hands and wrap your legs around my body? I need you to try and shift some of the weight off my right arm or I’m going to lose my grip on the rope, and we’ll start to spin.”
From somewhere above his head Johnny felt the spray of water dousing both he and the victim, along with the flames, making the rope wet and slippery. Thankfully, Bill had done as requested making it easier for Johnny to keep one arm around Bill, and the other hand on the rope.
The axle finally let go and the pickup began to slide off the guardrail. Johnny used their combined weight to swing his body out of the way of the falling truck as it plunged to the rocks below.
Up above, Mike, Hank and Marco began hauling in the rope, while Roy ran to get the trauma box. Chet shut off the hose, and quickly scrambled forward to help haul Johnny and the victim up. Length by length, hand over hand, they slowly hauled their youngest crew member and his victim to safety.
Roy heaved a sigh of relief as he saw his partner and the truck’s driver hit solid ground.
By the time he got to his partner, Johnny, looking like a drowned rat, had released Bill and managed to rise to his feet, rubbing his right arm.
“Are you okay?” Roy asked as he knelt down beside Bill.
“Yeah,” Johnny wheezed out. The senior medic thought his partner still sounded slightly breathless and he seemed a bit shaky.
“Why don’t you go take a seat on the bumper of the squad, while I take care of him,” the older medic suggested, gesturing toward Bill who was now also sitting on the ground, looking mighty relieved to be back on terra firma.
Johnny shook his head. “I’m fine, Roy. Just a bit winded. Bill’s got a broken right ankle that needs to be splinted.”
Cap stepped forward and clasped his hand firmly onto Johnny’s shoulder. “Listen to your partner, pal. Go get out of your gear and take a break. Roy can handle things here.”
John opened his mouth to protest, but realized he wasn’t going to win. Besides he was tired and sitting down for a few minutes didn’t sound like a bad idea. “Okay, Cap,” he acquiesced.
“Take care, Bill,” he said throwing the professor a wave as he turned to go back to the squad.
He was halfway back to the squad when he heard a male voice shouting across the police barrier.
“That looked awesome,” the bystander called out to John as he trudged across the pavement.
Johnny looked at the young man and grinned. “Don’t try that at home…or anywhere else for that matter,” he said with a smirk as he pulled off his gloves.
The young man grinned back. “Duly noted,” he replied.
Johnny walked over to the squad and tossed his gloves through the open window onto the passenger seat. He walked around to the side of the squad, undid his lifebelt and slid it off, shedding his wet turnout coat and helmet soon after. Opening the side
compartment, he removed a yellow blanket and used his teeth to tear open the package.
Walking back to the front of the squad, he opened up the passenger door and using his hand, he shoved his gloves over to Roy’s side of the bench and spread out the plastic blanket along the seat, before sliding his wet butt inside and pulling the door closed.
He laid his head back and watched lazily as Roy eased the now splinted Bill onto the gurney as he spoke to Rampart over the biophone. Since Bill wasn’t going to need an IV, Roy wouldn’t need to accompany Bill to Rampart. That meant Johnny wouldn’t have to drive the squad. With a contented sigh he let his eyes slide closed. It was a good rescue. From what he could tell they were three for three.
He wasn’t aware that he had drifted off until he felt Roy slide in beside him. “Cap wants you to get checked out at Rampart,” he informed the younger man.
Johnny cocked a lazy eye at his partner. “Just Cap?” he quizzed.
Roy rolled his eyes and shook his head. “You took a hard hit when you slammed into that truck… and I saw you rubbing your arm.”
“You would be too, if you had a two hundred and fifty pound guy hurl himself into your arms. But I’m fine… I don’t need to go to Rampart,” he complained.
“Uh-huh,” Roy said absently as he ignored Johnny’s protests and drove toward the hospital.
An hour and half later saw Johnny back at the station, wrapped in a towel as he exited the shower.
Roy marveled at his younger partner’s restorative powers. How he could be so dog tired after a rescue but then be able to recharge his batteries during the time it took to take one shower, was beyond him.
“I told you I was fine,” Johnny said, dropping the towel he was using to dry his hair. He snatched up his white undershirt, and pulled it over his head.
“Yeah, well it never hurts to be sure.” Roy defended.
“I never got to ask Dixie … how’s the guy from the convertible doing?” the younger man asked as his head emerged from the neck of his undershirt.
“Dr. Early says he’s gonna be fine. He’ll be in the hospital for a while, but he was real lucky,” Roy said, as he reached into Johnny’s locker, grabbed a dry pair of boxers, and handed them to his partner.
Ever since his spill in the swimming pool several months ago, both he and Johnny had taken to making sure they kept a dry pair of boxers and spare socks in their lockers. They had learned the hard way that there were few things more uncomfortable than sitting around in wet underwear and socks all day.
Johnny nodded as he slipped on the boxers before letting the towel that he had wrapped around his waist drop to the floor. The now semi-dressed Paramedic sat down on the bench in front of his locker with a soft grunt, in order to slip a pair of dry socks onto his feet. He looked down at his wet clothes with a frown. “You know what this station needs, is a washer and dryer for when stuff like this happens,” he groused.
“Try asking the department heads to pay for it, and see what happens,” Roy said; although for once he agreed with is partner. With all the times they’d had to jump into messy or wet situations during rescues, a washer and dryer would certainly come in handy, instead of having to wad up a pile of wet clothes into a gym bag. The smell of dirty, wet clothes that had been sitting balled up for twelve hours was never pleasant.
Speaking of which, Roy grabbed up the pile of sodden clothes and draped his partner’s wet pants over a hanger in one of the empty lockers so they wouldn’t get mouldy smelling. He then hung the wet boxers on the hook on the back of the locker door before closing it.
Johnny slipped his uniform shirt back on and checked to make sure his name tag and badge were straight, before reaching inside his locker to pull his dry pants from their hanger. He smiled at Roy as the older man finished arranging his wet socks over the bar in the shower stall. “Thanks, Pally,” he said as he slid one leg into his pants.
He had just started to slip his second leg into the garment, when once again the klaxons sounded for the squad. This time they were being sent to a woman down, call.
Johnny hastily finished pulling up his pants and zipped up the fly before snatching his boots off the bench. He slammed his locker door shut and ran for the squad, tossing his boots onto the seat. He would have to put them on enroute.
~ ~ ~
There was no need for Johnny to give his partner directions to the address on the call slip. It was a location they knew all too well. Their destination was a three story home that had been built in the thirties as a boarding house. It had been used as such up until the mid-fifties, when it had been sold to the city to be utilized as a half-way house for recently paroled convicts. It had been shut down for good five years earlier and had sat abandoned ever since. It had now become a flophouse for squatters, runaways, drug users and prostitutes.
In the past year alone the paramedics had been called to no less than a dozen overdose calls from this address. Three months ago, the police had discovered the body of a murdered prostitute in the upper floor of the building. Thankfully it was slated to be torn down at the end of the year, but with the demolition still months away, it was still currently being used by the drug crowd.
Coming up on the scene, Johnny noticed a small group of young people who looked to be in their early twenties. There was a female lying on the ground, in the supine position. Sitting on the grass beside her, another girl was weeping uncontrollably while two very nervous males stood around watching.
Both Paramedics recognized the two males. They were a couple of their frequent fliers named Shane and Barry. The only information they knew about them was that they were cousins, college dropouts, and habitual drug users. And while Shane usually played it safer using only joints or hash, he did on occasion like to drop something harder.
His cousin Barry preferred the harder stuff; his favourites being heroin, cocaine or reds.
Barry was particularly fond of speedballs … a combination of cocaine and heroin. Most speedball overdoses occurred because the cocaine worked as a stimulant, while the heroin acted as a depressant. The biggest issue was that cocaine has a shorter shelf life inside the human body than the heroin does. Taken in tandem the one countered the worst effects of the other.
The cocaine sped up the heart rate, but eventually wore off before the heroin did. When it did subside, the heroin would then take hold of the heart, and slow it down significantly. The rapid change in heart rate was the most common cause of overdose amongst speedball users. Twice in the past year they had brought Barry back from the dead because of respiratory depression. The hospital would detox him, and turn him loose, only to have the same procedure repeated until he either Barry got clean for good, or died.
From what they could see as they rolled up to the call, neither Barry nor Shane were in crisis, which probably meant the girl had gone down before the cousins had had a chance to shoot up; either that or they had only gotten as far as the weed today.
As his eyes took in the scene, Johnny’s attention was drawn away by the realization that there was a dark plume of smoke emanating from one of the third story windows in the abandoned building.
“Roy…” the younger man said nudging his partner’s elbow.
Roy turned his head and let his gaze follow his partner’s hand as he pointed to the smoke.
“I’ll call for the engine,” Johnny said, snatching the mike from its cradle. The junior medic paused for a moment and looked over at Shane and Barry who stood eyeing the squad warily. “And the police,” he added as an afterthought.
Roy nodded in agreement. “Good idea,” he said as Johnny keyed the mike. “L.A. this is Squad 51, be advised we have a structure fire at this location. Request an engine and police assistance for a possible OD.”
Sam Lanier’s voice came back over the speaker, “ten-four, 51.” The sound of the tones calling Engine 51 to their location could be heard inside the cab of the squad as the two men slid out.
“You wanna check on her while I make sure everyone is out of the house?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah,” Roy answered as he pulled out the trauma kit and biophone.
Johnny shrugged into his still damp turnout and grabbed his SCBA gear. “Is there anyone left inside?” he asked the two young men.
Shane looked at him and shrugged. “As far as I know it was just us… we’ve been crashing here for three days.” From the way both men were twitching, Johnny knew they had taken something stronger than the grass, he had originally guessed. It was anyone’s guess what that might be, and he had no intentions of leaving Roy alone with a couple of drugged up punks to handle on his own, while he went to do a sweep of the house; but the sound of the ambulance pulling up on scene quickly changed his mind.
Johnny waved the two attendants over and cast a glance at his partner who was in the process of taking the female victim’s vitals.
“Looks like reinforcements are here so I’ll go do a quick sweep to make sure it’s empty.”
Johnny looked over at the unconscious girl. “How’s she doin’?” he asked quietly.
Roy frowned. “Pulse is 120 and faint, respirations 24 and shallow, pupils are constricted…I haven’t had a chance to get a BP yet.” The two men exchanged glances… her vitals sounded a lot like a heroin overdose.
The younger medic slipped his air tank onto his back; “I’ll be back in a minute to give you a hand.”
Roy nodded, “make it a quick minute, Junior. I don’t like you going in alone.”
Johnny turned toward the house and ran up to the front entrance. As he was about to push open the door, he heard the sound of glass shattering from above his head as one of the upper windows exploded.
Flames spewed through the opening in twisting tendrils, reaching out in sweeping arcs of destruction. Johnny jumped aside to avoid being pelted by the shards of glass that were raining down from above. The sound of the glass shattering as it hit the concrete sounded almost musical to his ears.
He looked back in time to see Roy cast a worried glance in his direction. Johnny gave his partner the, thumbs up signal to let him know he was fine, and entered into the building.
Dust and garbage lay thick along the passage as Johnny began to call out. “Is anyone in here? You need to get out… this building is on fire.” His call went unheeded in the empty darkness.
Johnny ran up the stairs until he hit the second floor landing. Glancing up, he could see the entire third floor landing and stairwell was fully engulfed… there would be no way he could make it up to the third floor… if anyone had been there, they were goners. He sincerely hoped Shane had been right about there being no one else inside.
Thankfully there was no sign that the fire had reached this floor, so Johnny decided to concentrate on it, and work his way back down to the first floor. Several doors opened off the second floor hallway, and Johnny was able to make quick work of checking them out. Due to the solitary window at the end of the hall, everything was dim and narrow and it only served to complicate the situation as the smoke had begun to drift into the hall. A slight draft stirred the cobwebs that had gathered along the edge of the ceiling giving the scene an eerie look.
Finding no one on the second floor, Johnny ran back down the stairs to the first floor, calling out as he ran from room to room. As he approached the back of the house he came to a closet that someone had shut and fastened with a padlock. He doubted anyone would be inside, but he had to be sure. Grabbing hold of either side of the doorframe, the dark haired man began kicking the door. He felt the door start to give on the fourth kick; by the fifth kick it dropped away entirely with such force that Johnny nearly pitched forward; it was only his steadying hands on the door jamb that saved him from hitting the ground.
It turned out to be a small closet filled with a sleeping bag, a satchel of clothing and a backpack. His guess was that one of the young people was using this closet to store what little possessions they owned.
Johnny grabbed up the backpack, sleeping bag and the satchel of clothes and tossed them out into the hall. At least he could try and save some of their possessions on his way out. It wasn’t much, but having been homeless himself as a teenager he understood how important even the most meager possessions could be to someone.
Johnny walked through the only room he hadn’t checked on the first floor… the kitchen. As he opened the door he was confronted by the sight of flames shooting up the back wall of the kitchen. On the counter was an old green camp stove that had clearly been where the fire had started. Johnny knew immediately they were dealing with a balloon construction home. Something every firefighter hated … there would be little chance of saving this structure. It looked like the city wasn’t going to have to pay a demolition crew to take this place down… this fire was going to do it for them.
Balloon construction, had been very popular in the thirties and forties. Firefighters hated them because the way they were built meant the exterior walls were open hollows from the basement sill, clear on up to the attic. If you dropped a penny into the cavity hollow in the attic, you could pick it up down in the basement. So if a fire started at a lower level, like it had here, the flames simply progressed up between the walls’ hollow to the upmost floor in blowtorch like fashion.
It was dangerous because, once flames got into the walls; there was nothing to stop them from spreading to the roof in seconds. So if a fire started in the basement, the entire roof of the house could be on fire and the occupants could be entirely unaware that the fire was both above and below them. This fire had already gotten into the walls, and that had simply acted like a chimney which was why the top floor and main floor were on fire, but not the second. But Johnny knew that would change soon enough.
Johnny spied the basement door and descended down the stairs, calling out as he went. As he reached the bottom it became quickly evident that the fire had spread down, as well as up. In what had once been the furnace room he saw the glow of flames creeping across the wooden support beam. Off to his left he saw what had once functioned as a small root cellar. He walked over and looked through the door. It was pretty obvious from the large spider web across the doorjamb that no one had ventured down here in a while, because there would be no way someone could enter inside without dislodging the web.
Johnny retreated up the stairs and shut the basement door, sliding the bolt across the door before returning to the main hall. Having satisfied himself that there was no one left on the lower floors, he turned back toward the front door, and scooping up the contents of the closet, he ran back outside.
Outside, Roy was dealing with issues of his own with their victim. The young woman was in a bad way, and try as he might, he was not getting any co-operation from her friends who insisted she had only been smoking some weed.
It was clear all four of them were high to varying degrees. But he needed to know what the young lady had overdosed on.
“Look,” the older medic said in frustration. “I don’t have time for this. Your friend here could die if she doesn’t get the right treatment, and I can only provide that, if I know what she has taken.”
“Just some grass,” the other girl insisted. “We were just smoking a couple of joints, and she just started to freak out and ran outside. She got this far and keeled over… I swear.”
“This is more than just grass,” Roy shot back angrily. He looked up accusingly at the two young men. “What was it laced with?” the medic demanded.
The second girl looked up accusingly at the cousins. “You put something else in it besides grass?” she asked angrily.
The boys shifted guiltily and for a moment it looked as if Shane was going to fess up, but for better or worse, Vince chose that moment to pull up onto the scene causing the youth to close his mouth and step back. By their nervous movements, it was obvious they had something to hide.
“What‘s the problem,” the officer asked as he approached the group, pulling out his notepad as he spoke.
“I’ve got an OD victim here, and her friends aren’t being forthcoming with what she took,” Roy explained. “Johnny’s inside making sure everyone is out of the building… the engine is on its way.”
Vince walked over to the group to question them, while Roy explained the situation to Rampart.
The sound of sirens approaching in the distance alerted Roy to the fact that the engine was finally arriving. He raised his head, scanning the house for any sign of Johnny, as the flames had now broken through the roof and were shooting up into the sky. He felt a wave of relief wash over him as he saw his partner burst through the front door and head towards him. Johnny appeared to be carrying several items from inside the house, but thankfully he had no other victims.
Johnny trotted up, his helmet dangling down the back of his neck. He shot his partner a grin as he dropped the items in front of the two young men. “I assume these belong to one of you,” he said.
Barry looked panic stricken as the backpack was dropped at his feet, causing Roy’s eyes to narrow in suspicion. Clearly the presence of the backpack had amped up the Barry’s nervousness, and the older medic had a pretty good idea why.
“Vince, you wanna look inside that back pack…I have a feeling that whatever they gave the girl may be inside,” he said.
Roy’s request caused an instant reaction from Barry and he reached behind his back, pulling a gun from his waist band.
“Back off, man,” he said nervously as he waved the gun around in front of the Paramedics. Shane gaped at the gun in his cousin’s hand.
“Barry, what are you doing?” he asked nervously.
“We’re on probation, Shane,” the other said. “They take us in, its jail this time for sure…and I can’t go back inside the joint…I won’t.”
As the truth of Barry’s words sank in, Shane visibly paled and his eyes widened in panic.
Johnny stood frozen in place, not wanting to provoke any further action from Barry. He felt his pulse begin to race. Victims rarely tried to kill them….but sometimes they did.
In training they had been told to stay calm and try and talk them back from the ledge as it were. But theory did not always play out in practice. For the most part, the drugged out gun wavers had not read up on the protocols … they tended to deviate from the script.
It was the kind of protocol put in place by some corpulent big wig, sitting safely behind a desk, and not out in the field facing some drugged out victim who can’t, or won’t be reasoned with. The stark truth was that if someone wanted to take a shot at you, they usually could; and the salient point was…just once would be enough to end your life.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl, and although it seemed like an age, it was actually no more than a few seconds as Barry’s eyes darted around at the men in uniform nervously.
By this point Vince had drawn his own weapon and had it pointed at the gun wielding young man.
“Put it down, son …you can’t win.” Vince cautioned. The officer had managed to position himself in between the man with the gun and the Paramedics.
“Remember any blood that gets spilled, I’m going to have to replace with a bag of ringers,” Johnny quietly reminded Vince.
Roy looked up at the gun toting man angrily. “Every minute we waste here, is one minute closer your friend here is to death. You don’t want that on your plate too, do you?” his blue eyes were hard as flint.
By now the engine had arrived on scene. Johnny called over to the rest of the crew to stay inside their vehicle as long as the Barry was still brandishing his gun.
The two drugged up men stared wordlessly at the police officer, their eyes full of indecision. Finally Barry dropped the weapon onto the grass and bolted down the street.
Shane, clearly not wanting to be left holding the bag panicked and ran in the opposite direction towards the house.
Johnny looked over at Vince. “You go after him,” he said pointing to Barry who was running full tilt up the street. “I gotta go after Shane,” he said turning back toward the house.
Roy’s features darkened as his mind began to conjure up all the things that could go wrong with his partner running after some stoned kid into a house that was on fire, by now the entire back of the house along with the second and third floor were fully engulfed. It had all the hallmarks of being a really bad idea, with an even worse outcome.
The only comfort he had was the sight of the engine crew springing into action as Chet and Marco began pulling out the inch and a half. Cap could be heard calling for a second alarm over the radio.
~ ~ ~
Roy grabbed the backpack and dumped it out onto the grass, and discovered what appeared to be heroin inside the backpack…he snatched up the biophone and informed the doctor on the other end.
Johnny saw Shane approaching the entrance of the house. “Stop…stop,” he shouted frantically. Hell, he’d plead if he had too. “This whole place is going up in flames ...come back here.” But the young man panicked and ran into the house.
“Damn it,” Johnny muttered, as continued in hot pursuit across the overgrown yard after the young man; his duty was to the victim after all. Sliding his breathing mask over his face he stepped back through the front door.
From the moment he crossed the threshold into the main hall, an air of foreboding descended upon the Paramedic. The fire had gained considerable ground in just the short time since he had exited it five minutes earlier. Flames had now engulfed the entire second floor, and the lower level was quickly filling with smoke.
The only good thing was that he was fairly certain the kid was on the main floor and not in the basement, because the door was still closed and bolted just as he’d left it. Like a collage of random images he had seen on the fly during his first trip inside, Johnny called to mind the main floor layout.
At the end of the hall, flames were already shooting out the kitchen door, so it was a given Shane had not gone in there. There were four rooms on the lower floor that had been used as bedrooms when this had been a half-way house, plus one dining room. With the kitchen out of the question, that left five more rooms to check.
Johnny felt his way along the hall counting the doors and any turns...one, two three, right, left left…keeping track in his mind as he edged his way closer to the back of the house. He ran over his training in his mind as he made his way down the hall; use the back of your hand as you feel along the wall so if you hit a bare live wire, your muscles wouldn’t contract and clench your hand over the wire; and even though he knew that the power had been shut off long ago, habit had him still keeping his gloved hand, palm side out as he made his way along the wall.
Johnny was about halfway down the hall when he stopped short. He paused and looked up toward the ceiling as he sensed a slight tremor in the building. It was a feeling so intangible, so fleeting and soft, that the dark haired man questioned if it had actually happened. In that moment time seemed to pause, as if the building was holding its breath.
Johnny took his own shuddering breath, and advanced further down the hall.
The closer to the rear of the house he got, the more cautious he became. He became aware of the subtle changes in the house, the floor back here felt awkward as he walked across it… like his feet didn’t want to land flat. It occurred to him that the floor must be sagging slightly … even though it wasn’t a dramatic enough sag that he could visibly see it; he knew it was there by his sense of balance.
The passage was grey and shadowy as the smoke began to gather in the bottom floor. He had learned long ago to navigate by sound, understanding that your eyes and smoke could deceive you. He glanced around trying to catch any glimpse Shane.
He hated rescues like this. Every once in a while a victim threw you a surprise, like running back into a burning building. It was just one of the many hazards of the job.
People you were trying to help didn’t always react, nor do what the training drills said they should. It had been Johnny’s experience that he just had to deal with the rescues as they come at him. Only this time the kid was not only risking his own life, but Johnny’s at the same time. It was like those people who just had to go surfing during hurricane warnings; it was bad enough that they had so little regard for their own safety, but they also showed a flagrant disregard for the person who had to go haul their keister out of trouble.
Johnny pushed forward, silently cursing Shane with each step. “What was that kid thinking?” the medic muttered to himself. He wasn’t thinking period, he mused ruefully. That was the problem. He was high on drugs and therefore his reality was distorted, and while he didn’t seem to be as bad off as the young woman outside, both fear and drugs had clouded the young man’s judgement enough so that he didn’t realize the folly of running back inside a burning building.
Johnny sighed and kept on with his search. His job wasn’t to judge the value on anyone’s life; his job was to try and save them, regardless of how foolish their actions had been.
Johnny lifted a gloved hand and wiped his brow to keep the sweat from dripping into his eyes. The air felt too hot and heavy to the Paramedic. Even the walls felt like they were converging in on him; as if the entire building would soon be filled with its oppressive presence that would suffocate him. His breathing was so hard he paused to make sure that the sounds he was hearing weren’t his own gasps. The young rescuer took a moment to regroup and center himself.
Outside he was vaguely aware of his shift mates battling back the fire, as he heard them hitting the top two floors with water from the outside. Streams of water began to filter down into the lower level. His heart rate returned to normal, and he drew on that secret reserve of adrenaline that lies dormant in every human body, until need arose. It currently pumped through Johnny’s veins, as one by one he checked each room at the back of the main floor. He stood with his head slightly tilted, as if listening to some unseen voice … his gaze intently fixed on the ceiling. There was a kind of an indistinct sound, barely audible; it was almost as if the house was holding its breath and Johnny’s concern amped up.
Both the ceiling and the floor were beginning to show signs of instability and time was running out. If he didn’t locate the kid soon, he knew Cap would pull him out.
“SHANE!” he called out. “This place is going up fast; quit fooling around before you get us both killed.” He knew his voice would be muffled by his air mask, but he also knew the kid had to be on this floor. His big concern was that Shane was deliberately hiding. As he worked his way back toward the front of the house, Johnny heard the sound of the dining room door slamming shut. Bingo!
Johnny ran over and tried to turn the door knob. It was unlocked but someone or something was up against it holding it closed. He heard movement on the other side of the door, so he shouted, “Don’t be stupid, Shane…this place is going fast. Come on, man… I know you don’t wanna die.”
Suddenly the door swung open; instinct told Johnny to jump back. The Paramedic suddenly found himself face to face with the drug crazed young man who was now waving a knife around blindly. Shane made no attempt to speak at first … he just stood there with fear and apprehension in his eyes.
“Put the knife down, Shane. You don’t want to hurt anybody,” Johnny said forcefully. Shane glanced around with a look of helplessness and despair. “I can’t go to jail,” he whimpered.
There was no time to waste on niceties, or being gentle in talking the young man down. So Johnny came straight to the point. “We have bigger things to worry about than that right now, son,” Johnny warned. He hoped calling him son, even though there was probably less than three years between the two of them, would build trust. The Paramedic knew how he felt when Hank called him, son….hopefully the effect on the drug influenced young man would be the same.
By this point, Shane was beginning to cough and gasp as the smoke began to gather and thicken in the dining room. Johnny knew time was short. He also knew the combination of drugs and smoke was not a good thing. Exposure to smoke has two purposes…first it disorients; then it kills. But right now he needed to keep his own thinking processes clear, and get Shane to focus on him.
He took a cautious step closer to the young man. But as soon as Shane saw Johnny advance, he lowered himself into an almost cat like crouch, brandishing the knife at the Paramedic as he inched closer.
Johnny froze mid-step. “We’re running out of time Shane; you’re going to get us both killed here. Now come on, just drop the knife, and let’s get out of here,” he said urgently.
The building seemed alive and Johnny could hear it groan as it protested against its demise, as the fire raged on, laughing at its helpless victims. It tightened its death grip on the weakening structure and the floor began to creak and groan. Johnny grew even more concerned, but he pushed down the fears that were twisting in his gut as he concentrated on trying to get Shane to drop the knife before it was too late.
The young man’s desperation was growing, and Johnny could see the indecision in his eyes, so he leaned forward with his gloved hand extended.
“Give…”he could hear the blood roaring in his ears now.“Me…” his outstretched hands twitched nervously.“The knife…” Beads of sweat were running down the back of his neck.
Time was running out for both of them. They needed to get out of there now.
The young medic was growing frustrated. How did you reason with someone who’s thought processes are chemically altered? Suddenly Johnny’s eyes widened as he realized that the floor beneath him was beginning to sag and give beneath his boots; getting the knife out of Shane’s hand no longer mattered because, time had just run out for them both.
A brief horrified look flited over the youth’s face as he came to the same conclusion, and with a sudden flash of clarity, he realized his own mistake, and dropped the knife.
Johnny grabbed Shane by his sleeve and turned toward the exit. “RUN!” he screamed…or would have if the thunderous roar of the disintegrating floor hadn’t stolen away his cry, as the two bodies suddenly dropped into the basement below.
Johnny came too lying on his left side, his arm twisted painfully behind him.
The first definite thoughts that filtered into his head amid the myriad of questions that were assailing his mind were; I am alive…and I am in pain. The second thing he noticed was that despite the fall, both his mask and air tank had stayed on, although the mask now had a large crack in it, and his regulator was no longer functioning properly.
He levered himself into a seated position, sending bits of wall board and two by fours that had landed on top of him, sliding to the floor. The Paramedic felt his left shoulder protest as he shifted his body. It was pretty obvious that his shoulder had impacted with his air bottle when he had landed.
His mind slowly began to process everything that had just happened as he sat amid a haze of settling dust and smoke. Even though his regulator wasn’t working as it should, and his mask was cracked, Johnny was still getting some air, so he left his mask on… some air was better than none at all. Although he had noticed that the air felt cooler and clearer down here, and the smoke was far less dense.
He didn’t actually think he had lost consciousness… it was more like he had been momentarily stunned by the fall. He gave credit for that blessing to the fact that he’d had his helmet on when he fell, thus saving him from any serious head injury.
Now that he was sitting upright, other various aches and pains became more noticeable. The worst pain was emanating from his left hand and wrist. Both were screaming at him, sending every nerve in his arm tingling from fingertip to neck. Slowly and gingerly he flexed the rest of his body experimentally. All in all, he wasn’t in too bad of shape. His left hand and possibly the wrist were broken, of that there was no doubt. His shoulder was less certain…it felt more like a bad bruise than a break. Thank heavens for small mercies. But other than that, he appeared to be fine.
As he looked around he began to recognize his surroundings. It appeared that he had fallen into the root cellar. The cinder block stone walls had kept the fire from reaching this area of the basement, and the solidly built walls of the approximately six by six space, had prevented most of the larger timbers from landing directly on his body. Instead they had come to rest about five feet above him…several large beams were lying across the upper walls, and they were holding up the bigger chunks of wood, so that only the smaller, lighter debris had fallen on top of him.
The injured medic strained his eyes, but he could see no daylight above his head. It wasn’t completely dark inside, just a dull greyness. Dust and smoke clouded everything obscuring his surroundings in a cloudy haze; but even at that, his eyes had adjusted quickly and he found he could see relatively easily. He gazed around and realized his help was going to have to come from above…both literally and figuratively.
As his senses began to clear, Johnny finally remembered Shane. He pulled himself up onto his knees and began looking around, trying to see where the young man had landed. He called out the Shane’s name several times, but got no answer.
With his air mask on, his voice was muffled at best, and he realized he would have to make a decision, to either take off his mask and breathe in the smoke and dust, (and who knew what chemicals were floating around in the dust), or keep it on and risk not being heard. He decided to first find try and find Shane and then assess his situation and make that decision later. He was not badly off in the injury department and could give himself time.
Johnny slowly made his way across the floor using his right hand to slide debris out of his way as he went along. He carefully tucked his left arm inside the front of his turnout coat while he looked for Shane. He knew the young man had to be close by because they were beside each other when the collapse had occurred.
Unfortunately it didn’t take long before Johnny discovered where Shane and landed. He was just outside the door of the root cellar. The injured medic looked down, his shoulders slumping in despair. All of his efforts to get the boy out of the house safely had been for naught, because there in front of him lay Shane… the life snuffed out of his body.
One of the support beams lay across his neck … his head tilting at an impossible angle, as two lifeless eyes stared back at Johnny. There was no contorted look of pain or surprise on the young man’s face. (Sometimes they found their victims like that.) There was just the blank stare of death.
Johnny had no idea how old the young man was… he had guessed him to be perhaps twenty one or twenty two, because he remembered Shane mentioning once in the back of the ambulance during one of his trips to Rampart, that he had dropped out of college after his second year. But lying like this, he looked younger. The youthful appearance looked absurd on the corpse…it was an affront to everything youth was supposed to be.
The injured man sighed; he felt a helpless sense of futility. The beams’ instantaneous, and fatal blow to Shane’s neck, had robbed Johnny of any chance at saving his life.
It had been a race against time, and Johnny hated those instances when time defeated him. He had been hoping his attempts to get Shane out of the building would have gone perfectly, but he had long ago realized that not every outcome would be perfection. Life just didn’t work out that way sometimes. He knew that perfection was a cruel task master, because nothing would ever be good enough. There was always something you wished you could have done differently…better. Perfection never said thank you. It would just lie in your head and never give you a moment’s peace if you let it.
Johnny sometimes wondered how long people like Craig Brice would last in this business before they burned out, went around the bend, or crawled into a bottle. Life wasn’t perfect and neither was Johnny … and contrary to what Brice believed…he wasn’t either.
The plain and simple fact was; Shane had been gone before he got there and he’d been helpless to prevent it. The kid had a weapon and was waving it around just inches from Johnny’s face, and you always had to respect the weapon whether it was a knife, a gun or a baseball bat. Wielded just right, they could all severely injure or kill. Shane’s sentencing for his crimes had come down swiftly… he had made his choice, and had paid the ultimate price for it.
It had all come down to where they had landed when the floor went down. Accidents were fickle and timing and placement were everything. Ten inches one way and you lived…ten inches the other way and you died. Not for the first time, Johnny knew he had been the recipient of Divine intervention. He had fallen on the survivable side of the collapse.
Just beyond the body, Johnny noticed something else. Amidst the pile of sheared off lumber and sheet rock, the injured man saw a small opening in the debris. He crawled over to the opening, peering into the space and saw that there was a small pathway created through the rubble, and although it wasn’t huge, it was certainly wide enough that he could make his way through it.
Upon closer inspection, Johnny realized that he could see a definite patch of daylight about thirty feet inside the passage. He sized up the situation and he decided that if there was even an outside chance that patch of light led to freedom, he was going to go for it. Because even an outside chance was still a chance…and he wanted that chance.
Besides, sitting and waiting wasn’t an option. His crewmates would have their hands full with putting out what remained of the fire, as well as searching for him and Shane. He just hoped he found a way out before Roy was told about the collapse, otherwise his guilt prone partner would start to blame himself for not being with Johnny inside the building. It had taken him weeks to rid the senior partner of his guilt when he had been bitten by that rattlesnake. In both instances, Roy had been busy with the victim… which is exactly what he was supposed to be doing. But sometimes Roy got caught up in the perfection spiral of self-recrimination.
Johnny began to wonder about the status of the fire, and if it was out. If not, how close was it to him? He decided that he wasn’t going to sit around waiting to find out. He knew he was going to crawl into that passage through the debris, towards the light.
Heading toward the light, Johnny? Let’s just pray it’s not THEE light, he thought with chagrin.
Johnny shook off his morbid thoughts and mentally chided himself. Once he reached the source of that patch of daylight, he figured if it didn’t lead to the outside world, at least his shouts would have a better chance at being heard. Hadn’t he just told himself that his help had to come from above? Every instinct in his body told him this was the way out of the house. He sent up a prayer of thanks because he knew his instinct had a name, and its name was God.
Johnny figured it was going to be a tight squeeze, so he removed his air tank and mask, drawing in one last lungful of air first, because he knew with his SCBA on, there would be no chance of his body fitting through the space.
He briefly considered taking Shane’s body with him, but he divorced himself of the idea fairly quickly. In his present state he could do no more than get himself out of the building alive. There would be no way he could drag a corpse along behind him. The body retrieval would be left to someone else this time; he was in no position to get Shane through the narrow passage with only one working hand, and a sore shoulder.
The kid had been the architect of his own demise when had lost a race with the collapsing house, and Johnny knew he could too if he didn’t get a move on. He had no time to sit and reflect on Shane’s death any longer …or he would be joining the ranks of the dead; and he did not hold his own life so cheaply.
The young medic was more than willing to risk his life to save another, but he would not throw it away for a corpse. He had to leave the body and get his own hide out of there. He carefully lowered himself down making sure his injured hand was securely tucked inside his turnout coat and prepared to crawl through the tunnel of debris.
Johnny felt along the bottom of the tunnel with his gloved hand, he couldn’t see a thing except the light at the end of the darkness. He could feel water trickling down; and the dust and smoke where choking him, making him cough as he slowly began to pull himself forward with his one good hand.
The dust and smoke were his biggest enemies now, and he was grateful he would not be in it long, because even five minutes seemed like an eternity right now. Johnny was grateful that the air was not so bad that it would incapacitate him… he would survive; but he wanted out of this building as quickly as possible all the same.
Each movement jarred the broken bones in his hand and wrist, making his stomach churn, and his entire body break out into a cold sweat. He had to grit his teeth from crying out in pain, but as uncomfortable and painful as it was, he was more grateful than he’d ever been, to be crawling cheek to jowl through an enclosed space that was littered with debris.
As he slowly made his way toward the patch of light up ahead, the injured man could feel various sharp objects scraping against his legs, tearing the material of his uniform pants, as they bit into his flesh.
Johnny wasn’t surprised; the tunnel was made up of chunks of sheared off lumber that had nails sticking out at odd angles, not to mention the shards of glass that littered the ground beneath his body. He felt one of those shards bite into his knee. The lighting was so dim it was hard to see the damaging objects until his body made contact, and uniform pants just didn’t offer the same protection as his gloves and turnout coat did.
He was about half way out when Johnny felt something brush against him, causing him to start. He shuddered as he realized it was a rat that had also discovered this passage and was now scurrying along ahead of him. It had probably been in the root cellar with him and like him, the rat’s instincts told it how to escape.
It was funny how your mental faculties depleted in direct contrast to the urgency upon which your life depends on their functioning; his brain had been reduced to just sending out the most basic commands. Just keep moving forward Johnny … and don’t forget to breath.
He had a vague notion, that he could hear someone calling his name. Sounds like Marco, he thought; but he never bothered shouting back. He was trying to keep his breaths as shallow as he could. With all this dust and smoke, any real deep breaths resulted in a round of coughing, which brought on a whole new level of pain that he was trying to avoid. So he put his entire focus on shimmying out of this death trap instead. The light at the end of the debris tunnel looked like it was getting brighter which caused Johnny to redouble his efforts.
After ten minutes of crawling, he saw the patch of light suddenly open up just ahead of him, and when he saw its source he felt as if he could have wept for joy. For the second time in less than half an hour, Johnny sent up a word of thanks to the big Paramedic in the sky. There, not ten feet in front of him, was one of the basement windows. The glass was broken out, but thankfully the bottom sill was at ground level.
“Thank you, God” he whispered, and he meant it. He’d made it out. Another minute of crawling and he could see the lower half of a fire engine; the number 51 on the door greeting him like a long lost friend.
“Hey,” he called out. “Is anyone out there?”
“Johnny?” The injured man recognized the rather shocked sounding voice of Mike Stoker.
“Yeah Mike…it’s me,” he called out in relief.
“Hey Cap,” the injured medic heard Mike yell out. “I found, Johnny… he’s alive.”
There was a pause, and then the patch of light dimmed as Cap’s concerned face appeared.
“Are you hurt, John,” he asked, his voice a mixture of concern and relief.
“Yeah,” Johnny replied tiredly, “…busted up my left hand and wrist. My shoulder feels bruised too.” Johnny sighed as he anticipated Cap’s next question, so he decided to answer it before it could be asked. “The other guy’s a code F… a support beam came down on his neck,” he informed his superior with a note of regret. He knew he didn’t need to elaborate any further. Any kind of beam falling on anyone’s neck was all the explanation that was needed for Cap to understand what had happened to Shane.
As Johnny drew level with the edge of the window, a scuffling was heard and a moment later Roy’s face appeared directly in front of him. Their eyes connected briefly, and an entire conversation was exchanged in just one glance; relief, question, and concern…but most importantly, the promise of help and support.
“Hey partner…you need a hand?” Roy quietly asked.
Johnny flashed his partner a tired grin. “I only got one working at the moment…just hang on and I’ll finish crawling out to you.” He barely had the words out, before his head cleared the window sill.
“Watch the left hand and shoulder,” he warned as the top half of his body eased through the opening. “I messed them up a bit,” he said squinting as the sun assailed his eyes…he had been in the dark for almost an hour. As he pulled his body forward the final few inches, he accidentally put his weight on his injured hand, causing him to let out an involuntary hiss of pain.
Suddenly two sets of hands grabbed hold of his belt and his good arm and pulled him the rest of the way out, and hoisted him to his feet. As shaky as he felt, it was good to be able to stand upright again and he did his best to stretch out his cramped back muscles…but the effort pulled on his sore shoulder and he winced.
His fleeting grimace of pain was all it took for Roy to switch from relieved best friend to Paramedic. “Let’s get you fixed up Junior,” he said quietly.
“A shot of MS would be nice,” the injured man answered tiredly.
The June breeze blew against his overheated skin, the combined effect caused the injured man to involuntarily shiver.
“Here let me get you a blanket, Junior,” Roy said as he gently eased off Johnny’s turnout coat.
“Naw, its fine, Roy, the fresh air feels good against my skin,” he said.
“Well let’s get you onto a gurney and you can lie down,” the senior medic said, motioning for the ambulance attendants to bring over the stretcher.
“I can walk, Roy…I don’t need the gurney,” Johnny argued. He was determined to leave under his own steam. The older medic threw his partner a look that suggested he thought otherwise.
Roy thought his partner looked physically drained…as if someone had syphoned out every drop of energy he had. There was also a rasp in his voice that was indicative that his partner had eaten some smoke.
“Humour me,” the older partner said as he patted Johnny on his uninjured shoulder; but Johnny waved off the ambulance attendant’s efforts to get him on the gurney as he continued to stand on shaky legs, cradling his injured hand and wrist.
“I can go in with the squad. There is no need to tie up an ambulance,” he insisted.
Roy sighed but decided to let the matter drop for now.
“I’ll be back in a minute, Junior. I’m gonna go get the equipment” the fair haired medic said as headed toward the squad.
Johnny made his way over to the engine and sat down on the back bumper. The events of the last hour began to catch up to him, and he found himself helpless to prevent a cascade of tears from sliding down his face. He hated the sense of futility; he hated death and the waste of such a young life so carelessly forfeited for a quick thrill.
It angered him when he thought about those victims who, through no fault of their own, lost the battle for life. People like Drew and Tim Duntley…people like his parents. And this kid had just tossed his life recklessly away. He sat there on the back of the engine and cried for them all. He cried in relief, because once again, he had survived.
He had seen many of his brothers in arms break down and cry…and they all understood the reasons for the tears, because they had all done it themselves at one time or another. No one teased or derided. No one thought it was a weakness…not even the Chet’s of the department…not even the Brice’s. Because each man knew the next tears could be their own.
And when those moments happened, it was never spoken about … never mentioned again. It was only acknowledged by a sympathetic pat on the shoulder or knee…and distance. Most guys left the person alone long enough for them to process their emotions, and exorcise their demons; but only long enough to exorcise them…not so long that they began to make friends with them.
When the heroics fell away, then the stark reality was all they had left… the images of death and destruction. It could sneak up on you when you least expected it to…it could haunt you in your dreams. They had protective gear that had been designed for their bodies…but there was no kind of gear designed for their souls, except for prayers and those moments of emotional release.
By the time Roy returned, Johnny had removed his helmet and gloves and tossed them on the ground. His head was resting against the back of the engine, tears spent and eyes closed as he sat taking in, and relishing deep draughts of fresh air.
The legs of his pants were shredded in several places from getting caught on nails and other debris. Thankfully most of the cuts were more like superficial scratches, although there was one or two that may need stitches, and the one on his knee would need to be debrided and stitched.
“I thought I told you to stay put,” the older medic chided gently.
The corners of Johnny’s mouth turned up into a slight smile; “No you didn’t,” he countered. “You just said you’d be back in a minute. I never promised anything.” The dark haired man punctuated his statement with a rasping cough.
“What happened to your SCBA gear, Junior?” he asked as he pulled out his stethoscope to listen to his lungs.
“Woulda got hung up on the debris inside the crawl space…it was pretty narrow and even as skinny as I am, I barely fit inside without it strapped to my back; I had to leave it behind,” he explained as Roy opened the front of his uniform shirt and held the bell of the stethoscope against his chest.
No more words were spoken as Roy commanded Johnny to take some deep breaths…each effort resulting in another rasping cough.
Roy could hear some faint rales in his lungs, but it wasn’t as bad as he had feared. He sat back on the balls of his feet and gave his partner an encouraging smile as he reached for a splint.
“Let me splint that hand and wrist up for ya, Junior, and then we can get you outta here,” he said kindly.
Roy gently took hold of Johnny’s injured hand and began to splint it. But no matter how careful he was, he knew it was going to hurt. A fact confirmed when his partner drew in a sharp breath, and emitted a hiss of pain. Johnny scowled at his partner, “Ow…that hurt Roy!”
Roy rolled his eyes and threw his patient a smirk. “It’s supposed to hurt…it’s broken.”
“Well how about some MS for a man in pain?” Johnny groused.
“Well if you would lay on the gurney I could start your IV and inject some into your port.”
The aches and pains along with the bright sun were now catching up to Johnny and suddenly lying down in the back of an air conditioned ambulance didn’t sound like a bad idea.
“Maybe you’re right,” the injured man said as he took hold of the hand Roy held out.
The sudden upright motion as he stood on his feet was all it took for Johnny to be overcome by a wave of dizziness. It was accompanied by a fresh bought of harsh coughing; the combination of which proved too much for his over taxed system.
Instead of stepping forward, he and Roy did a kind of backwards waltz; his knees suddenly turning to jelly as the dark haired medic did a slow motion collapse into his partner’s arms.
The rescue had looked very different from Roy’s perspective. He had just finished taping down the IV to the young lady’s arm with a frown. Her respirations were severely depressed and she had already seized once. He motioned the ambulance attendants over, snapping the lids to the biophone and drug box closed, as he prepared to transport the victim to Rampart.
He sat back on his heels and wiped the sweat of his forehead as the two attendants got the victim situated on the stretcher and began to cover her with a blanket. Roy took the opportunity to let his eyes wander over to the burning house. He watched helplessly as Chet and Marco aimed their hoses at the back of the house where the flames were raging out of control as pillars of dirty yellow-black smoke wicked up into the late morning sky.
Roy’s stomach knotted in fear as he thought about Johnny, who still hadn’t emerged from the house. The building was going up extremely fast, the flames not caring that his best friend was somewhere inside. They simply did as they pleased, until forcibly stopped. The senior medic heard the angry hiss as streams of water hit the flames, while the fire, in a spectacular display of defiance resisted all efforts to extinguish it as it roared on, spreading its’ destruction throughout the entire structure.
Roy watched Cap calling out instructions over his HT, as he directed Engine 8 on where he wanted them to attack the fire, as they rolled up on the scene. The worried medic willed the crew of Engine 8 to move faster. He prayed that his partner would come bursting out the front door, with Shane in tow any second now. But it was Vince who came strolling back, with a very angry Barry trudging along beside the officer. The younger man’s hands were handcuffed behind his back.
The officer walked past Roy without acknowledging the paramedic, as he pulled Barry over to his cruiser and guided him into the back seat. His mission accomplished, Vince walked over to Roy, who was closing up the squad until his partner could take control of it.
“Gage not back yet with the other one?” he asked.
“No,” Roy answered with a worried frown. “Not yet.”
Vince nodded. “Okay, well I’ll just wait around until he does, because Shane is going to be joining his cousin for a trip to jail.”
“I take it, they’ll both be placed under arrest,” Roy said to the officer.
Vince nodded in the affirmative. “Right now it’s for possession for the purpose of trafficking, but it may be upgraded to something worse depending on the outcome of the investigation. If they laced that girl’s joint with something that ends up killing her, they’ll both be looking at some serious time. By the way, how’s the other girl doing?” Vince asked.
Roy shook his head. “Not so good,” he said sadly. “Speaking of which, Rampart would like you to swing the boys by there first, so they can check them out to make sure they won’t crash on you later on. I’m taking the other girl in with me now so the Doc’s can do a tox screen on her,” he said, motioning over to where the still weeping girl was being helped into the back of the ambulance.
“Well, It looks like they’ve got them both loaded up so I better get going,” the medic said. “I’ll see you at Rampart.”
Roy waved his Captain over as he slid the drug box and biophone into the back of the ambulance.
Hank trotted over and looked at his senior Paramedic, his brow raised questioningly. Did you need something, Roy?” he asked.
“I was just wondering if there’s any word on Johnny, and the other guy?” he queried.
Hank shook his head. “He’s still inside searching… but if he doesn’t find him soon, I’m going to have to call him out, boy or no boy. The situation is getting pretty untenable. “
Roy looked at his watch and frowned as a new wave of fear gnawed in his gut. Johnny had been inside far too long for his liking. Where the heck are you, Junior? he mused.
Everything had gone down so fast that it was only after Johnny had ran back into the house that Roy realized he still had the HT with him. He wished Johnny had taken it; at least then he could have contacted him to make sure he was okay.
Roy hoisted his body into the back of the ambulance. “I gotta leave with this victim now Cap; she can’t wait.” The worried paramedic paused. “Tell Johnny I’ll be waiting for him at Rampart.”
Hank nodded. “If he has to bring in the second kid, I’ll send Chet over with the squad; either way you just sit tight at the hospital.”
Hank looked at his worried crew member and gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Roy. If he doesn’t find the boy in the next two minutes, I’ll send Chet in to bring him out.”
Roy nodded his thanks and crawled into the back of the ambulance, while Cap shut the doors and gave them the customary two slaps.
Roy wasn’t happy about leaving his partner behind but the girl was in critical condition and in desperate need of treatment, and as the only available Paramedic on scene, he had to be the one to accompany her in the back of the ambulance to Rampart. He hated not knowing if Johnny was okay; he hated not being there to back him up. The last glimpse of the scene Roy caught before the door closed was of the Engine crew from 8’s raising their ladder so they could attack the flames from above, while Chet and Marco worked on pulling off the sheets of plywood that had been used to board up the windows on the main floor.
If the ambulance had left just one minute later, Roy would have witnessed the entire first floor of the building collapsing into the basement.
Inside the ambulance, Roy tried to push down his fear and focus his attention on his victim as they raced toward Rampart. Even though he knew he couldn't fully turn off his concern over his partner’s well-being, Roy’s training had taught him to channel that fear into performance. He felt the emotional strain the not knowing was taking on his nerves as he wiped his hand wearily over his face in frustration.
He despised running calls like these; the ones where circumstance prevented him from being there to have his partner’s back. That was what partners were supposed to be for. Even though he understood that he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, Roy still felt like he was failing Johnny.
He knew the protocols…they both did, and he knew Johnny wouldn’t blame him …but then again he blamed himself enough for both of them. He hadn’t felt this bad since he had been separated from his partner the time he’d been bitten by that rattlesnake and Johnny had had to treat himself.
Roy concentrated on rechecking the girl’s vital signs as the ambulance approached Rampart and grimaced at the numbers. He figured there was about a 50-50 chance that she would make it. But he had done all that he could. He had administered the ordered drugs to try and counteract whatever it was in her system. They couldn’t be sure exactly what she had taken until the tox screen came back. He had made sure her heart was still beating when she had arrived at the hospital, but whether or not she had anything resembling a functioning brain left inside of her head was still up in the air.
He had offloaded the patient and accompanied her into treatment two where Joe Early was waiting for her, and after giving the doctor the most recent readings, he excused himself. He made his way back to the base station to restock their supplies and grab a cup of coffee while he waited for word on his partner. It was at the base station that he had heard the call go out for Squad 45 to go to the scene because of a building collapse with more possible victims…one of them a Code I.
The coffee in his hand was completely forgotten as Roy looked around the ER trying to find any way to get back to the scene. He was at the end of his wits and ready to throw his coffee mug against the wall when he heard Phil Speer, one of the ambulance attendants hailing him from down the hall.
“Hey, DeSoto… we just got called back to the scene. You wanna hitch a ride back with us?” The attendant asked. Roy could have gladly kissed the man at that moment, as he grabbed his equipment and ran to join them at the ambulance. He had heard the call go out for Squad 45 over the radio, but Johnny was his partner, and he needed to be the one who was there for him if he’d been hurt… 45’s could take Shane, but no one else was going to treat his partner should the need arise… not this time.
Roy sat in the back of the ambulance as it raced back to the scene, fidgeting worse than anything he had ever witnessed from Johnny. With no patient to distract him, he had nothing but his own thoughts and fears to keep him company all the way back. His mind felt dull, but it wasn’t a physical fatigue. It was the kind of emotional fatigue that came with the constant battle of trying to pull his mind out of that destructive game of, what if, that was playing over and over in his head like an endless loop of film. It was taking great effort to keep his mind from assuming the worst.
What he wanted… no… what he needed to be doing, was something constructive like searching for his partner. His knee bounced up and down restlessly as he willed the ambulance to go faster.
Didn’t Phil realize that every second counted? Of course he did…but it wasn’t Phil’s partner who was buried in the rubble…it was his.
“Hold on Johnny…I’m coming…just hold on,” he whispered as he forced himself to cling onto hope. He whispered the words over and over, chanting them like a mantra; “Johnny’s okay, Johnny’s okay,” trying to overpower the nagging doubt that kept breaking through his thoughts.
The moment the ambulance stopped, Roy was out of the doors and running over to what remained of the structure. He grabbed his turnout coat and gloves out of the squad and joined in on the search. Every couple of minutes or so, someone called out Johnny or Shane’s name. But their calls went unanswered.
Half an hour had passed since he had arrived on scene and Roy was beginning to despair of finding his partner alive, when he heard Mike shout across the rubble to Cap; “I found Johnny… he’s alive.”
The words had been music to the Senior Paramedic’s ears, and he took off in a dead run towards the engineer. He’s alive! The words sang to his heart with every step he took. Cap had a smile on his face as he stepped aside to give Roy access to his partner. And as he bent down, Roy finally saw the face he had been longing to see for over an hour.
He breathed a sigh of relief when, first a helmet poked through the broken basement window, followed by the sight of Johnny’s face as it appeared out of the carnage that surrounded them. Johnny’s face was smudged with dirt and pinched in pain, but no sight had ever been sweeter to the older medic in his life.
“Hey, partner… you need a hand?” he asked.
Johnny smiled up at him with that crazy lopsided grin of his and replied, “I only got one working at the moment… just hang on and I’ll finish crawling out to you.”
For a moment it looked as if the injured man was about to say more, but the grin suddenly slipped off the younger man’s face only to be replaced by a grimace followed by a hiss of pain. Roy immediately sobered and reached down along with Mike and pulled his partner out of the death trap.
Roy and Mike helped Johnny out of the rubble and onto his feet; the older partner letting the injured man lean against him for support when his steps faltered. For the second time that day, Roy found himself motioning for the ambulance attendants to come over to his aid.
Johnny had informed Roy that Shane had been killed when the building had collapsed, and Roy knew he should have felt some pangs of sadness at the loss, but at this moment the only thing he could bring to his mind was how the Shane had almost cost him the life of his partner for no other reason than his own desire for a quick high.
Roy was pulled away from his private musings by the sound of his partner coughing. Johnny’s voice was a little too raspy for his liking which meant he must have taken in some smoke. Of course he would have…his air tank and mask was missing, but at least he’d kept his helmet and gloves on this time, Roy thought with a smile. He’d find out when he examined Johnny what he had done with SCBA gear.
As he led his partner away from the dying remains of the house, Roy couldn’t help but be grateful over the fact that once again, Johnny seemed to have a guardian angel lodged firmly on his shoulder. He just wished to high heaven that his partner would stop testing his fate by seeing if that angel was still on the job. But for now the older medic gave thanks that Johnny’s angel was still there … he prayed it would never leave.
He was still silently giving thanks when several minutes later Johnny collapsed into his arms.
To Be Continued in Part Two
Posted to Site 6/3/17
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